HIGHLAND PLANTATION — Protesters carrying signs gathered outside the fire station over the weekend as developers of a proposed wind power project welcomed visitors inside for a presentation.
Former Maine Gov. Angus King and his business partner, Robert Gardiner, greeted visitors to Saturday's open house.
King said Maine used to have high electrical power costs, but it's now the lowest in New England. Other parts of the country produce electricity more cheaply, but the environmental costs are higher, he said.
"Maine doesn't use coal or natural gas to produce electricity," he said. "We aren't producing air pollution with wind energy."
King and Gardiner are principals of Independence Wind LLC and formed a subsidiary company, Highland Wind LLC, which owns the project. Bayroot LLC owns the land and hired Wagner Forest Management to take care of the property.
Nearly two years ago, Highland Wind applied for a permit to erect 48 wind turbines, build access roads, put up collector line, a substation, and an operations and maintenance building. The proposed Somerset County project would be on the ridge lines of Stewart, Witham and Bald mountains, and Briggs and Burnt hills.
Protesters trying to stop the projects said they are concerned about more than simply not-in-my-backyard factors. They are angry about permanently ruining the views near the Bigelow Mountains and the Appalachian Trail.
The wind farm project investors and partners receive tax breaks and federal energy grants, but most Maine taxpayers and ratepayers won't see any benefits, environmental engineer and Phillips resident Nancy O'Toole said.
"The key thing now is that the numbers on the amount of electricity that's generated by these turbines isn't what they said it would be, but our tax money is going to subsidize these projects," O'Toole said.
Friends of the Highland Mountains protester Jennifer Perkins stood with her sign in the brisk wind. She grew up in Norridgewock and lives in nearby Anson. Her family has had property in the area for many years, and she is worried about the effects of such a large project on environmental quality.
"This is not an industrialized area," she said. "The change in the way of life up here would be enormous."
She shared the concern that residents in other parts of the state weren't as supportive, because they wouldn't have to see or hear the turbines.
The Land Use Regulation Commission, which decides the fate of such projects in the unorganized territories, has asked that the wind project be reduced in size. The permit review will continue, with several opportunities for the public to comment.
King and Gardiner bring considerable resources and experience to the project. Gardiner was president of the Maine Public Broadcasting Corp., director for the Maine Advocacy Center for the Conservation Law Foundation, and director of Maine's Bureau of Public Lands. He also served as chairman of the National Wildlife Federation, vice chairman of the National Public Broadcasting Service, and as a board member of Central Maine Power Co.
King provides counsel to the Portland-based Bernstein Shur law firm. He also created and operated Northeast Energy Management Inc., a developer of major electrical energy conservation projects in south central Maine and was chief counsel to Swift River Hafslund Co., which developed hydropower and biomass projects throughout New England.