Wind power opponents advance legislation

AUGUSTA — A group opposing industrial windmills atop Maine's mountain ranges has convinced several lawmakers to submit legislation that scrutinizes and reduces the speed of the state's wind power initiative.

Wind power proponents counter that the group isn't looking for transparency or to slow down wind development, but to stop it altogether.  

Friends of Maine's Mountains, a recently formed nonprofit, this week unveiled nine bills sponsored by seven different lawmakers that address their primary concerns about former Gov. John Baldacci's Wind Energy Act of 2008, the initiative that fast-tracked wind power development in designated areas, including the state's western Mountains.

At the moment the legislation is merely bill titles. However, those titles echo concerns often expressed by wind power opponents, including site permitting, insufficient notice for public hearings for proposed projects, comprehensive wildlife surveys and the belief that wind generated electricity is too costly and doesn't justify the expense and permanency of windmills on Maine's mountaintops.

The bill's sponsors are both Democrats and Republicans who represent communities affected by the wind initiative.

Michael Pajak, the group's executive director, said he hoped that new faces in the Legislature would be more receptive to their concerns.

"We think this slate of bills provides a solid case for a closer look at this phenomena of industry wind before we proceed blasting away at Maine’s mountaintops and clear-cutting for new transmission lines for a fairly intermittent and expensive form of electricity," Pajak said.

Jeremy Payne, the executive director for the Maine Renewable Energy Association, said Friends of Maine's Mountains is only interested in stopping one of the few industries that's providing jobs and economic development in the state.

"They've hired a lobbyist and are taking donations," Payne said. "This is not a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) group. This is a Not in ME (Not in Maine) group."

Payne said that most of the protections for site development the legislation is seeking are already in place. He added that wind power remained popular with Mainers, citing a poll the industry commissioned last summer showing 88 percent approval with respondents.

Payne was also quick to highlight the private investment and job creation associated with the initiative, including $750 million in capital investment; $105 million in wages paid to Maine residents; and host communities are estimated to receive nearly $95 million in community benefit agreements, property tax reductions, electricity rate cuts and other economic development programs.

Despite the organized effort and slate of anti-wind legislation, Payne said he was confident Augusta lawmakers would see that the wind initiative is worthwhile despite criticism that it was advanced to quickly.

"The benefits ... are here today and provided we don't change the rules, they'll be there tomorrow," Payne said.

Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, who is sponsoring three of the nine bills, said he was ambivalent about wind power. He said his legislation was designed to educate residents about the long term costs.

"I want to make sure people understand the real economics of wind power, the cost of wind power," he said. "I will not sponsor a moratorium, nor will I sponsor a backwards look at bills. I just want everyone to understand what we’re giving up — mountaintops — and what we’re getting back."

"I’m a forester, I’m used to natural resources being used," he said, describing a visit to the Kibby Mountain Project. "But I wasn’t used to the permanency of those windmills."

Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, is sponsoring a bill that would improve the permitting process. Patrick, who supported Baldacci's wind initiative in 2008, said he now had reservations about low-level noise, wildlife surveys and the subsidies wind developers receive.

Although he initially supported the initiative, Patrick said didn't know "if it was the best thing to do to expedite it so quickly."

Payne and Dylan Vorhees, of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said that concerns about the pace of wind projects weren't always grounded in fact. Payne said that some projects had 20 to 30 public hearings before moving forward.

Vorhees, whose organization consults on wildlife surveys, said the claim that some projects are rammed through the process isn't true. He said that although Friends of Maine's Mountains was now better organized and had a State House lobbyist, its interest still "didn't represent the majority of public opinion" about wind power.

Nonetheless, Pajak, of Friends of Maine's Mountains, said he was hopeful his group could persuade lawmakers in Augusta to make some changes.

"There's a whole new set of ears and eyes on the issue, so we’re trying to seize the moment to get people’s attention," he said.

Gov. Paul LePage has expressed reservations about the wind initiative. However, Dan Demeritt, LePage's communications director, said the governor wouldn't likely support a moratorium on future projects.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Mr. Patrick Flips

The people of your own community have stated many times that they are in favor of wind powerr. Good thing the election is over. Because some of those people who voted for you were and are still in favor of wind power and they might not have voted for you knowing that you were going to change your mind.

Anne Morin's picture

Wind Turbines opponents

It is about time that the legislature re_examine what was so hurriedly put through regarding the placement and permitting of Wind turbines. Those of us involved in fighting the Wind Industry feel like David fighting Goliath. All we have are facts and questions which the Wind Industry does not address or out rightly glosses over. I am concerned about the placement of turbines on every mountain top we have in the Western Maine area. Perhaps spokesmen for the Wind Industry would not be so quick to refer to "20_30 meetings" regarding these issues if they actually had to document that fact. Also what constitutes a "meeting?" Is it one in which the parties involved can ask questions and get answers? I have been to very few of those and in fact have been involved in setting up public forums for exactly that purpose only to be rebuffed by First Wind who chose not to attend. As someone who has attended meetings with Record Hill Wind representatives, I can say without any reservation at all, that most of our simple questions (Where are the jobs? Where is the funding for the completion of this project before you blast off the mountain tops? Exactly why should we be paying more for electricity after the towers are working? for example) went unanswered.

Taxpayers, citizens of the western mountains, hikers, hunters, ATVers, snow_mobilers, skiers all need to ask the hard questions. How will these gigantic industrial structures impact your life? Will you still have access to those very features which enrich your life here or will the lives of only a few be enriched by payments from the Wind Industry? What can you do to force the Wind Industry to place the turbines away from people's homes, a simple 1 and 1/5 miles away as per the suggestion of the World Health Organization?

Another issue is why the Department of Environmental Protection(DEP) and Bureau of Environmental Protection (BEP) will not carry out what is required by law...a public hearing on the noise issue regarding the placement of turbines. Why won't they allow a certified acoustician, (a specialist with a degree certifying that they know what they are talking about regarding industrial noise generation) to question the DEP which does not have a certified acoustician working on these projects? Why are the DEP and BEP so adamant that they will not allow such a person to give testimony?

It has taken at least 3 years of work for Concerned Citizen's to Save Roxbury to learn about this whole Wind Industry's invasion of our state. It is enough to make cry and/or you shake your head in disbelief at what people are expected to accept as the truth about the energy that will be produced, about non_existent local community jobs (unless you work of Iberdrola of Spain or the biggest construction company in Maine), about the "lowering of electricity costs" which will actually increase due to the costs of the new "required" transmission lines, about the impact on the presence of wild life (while some people will be forced to stay near the turbines, moose and deer will move away), about the impact on local tourist business (people come to walk and play in the wilderness not an industrial zone), and about the availability of trails for snow-mobiles and ATV near multimillion million dollar investments and about the resulting "increase" in tax revenue.

Regarding this last point, community residents should get an exact amount by which their taxes will be reduced by the presence of wind turbines on their mountains. By exact, that is exactly what I mean! NO business is in business to pay taxes. Demand that the fine print be explained. When the occasion arises for any kind of tax break, the Wind Industry will take their considerable clout and demand the breaks. Towns and the elected officials in the towns should not be day dreaming about all the money they are going to get. The Wind Industry is not in business to enrich the towns. I sat in a meeting of the Roxbury Board of Selectmen in the summer of 2009 when Mr. Mike Rogers from the State came to explain to us how our taxes would be impacted by the placement of 22 turbines on Record Hill. He explained the benefits and then returned two weeks later with totally different estimates more favorable to the town. What had occurred in the two intervening weeks? A visit from the executives of Record Hill Wind.

The members of our communities need to see the long view of what they will have when the turbines dominate their communities. Attend meetings and demand answers before your local representative votes or gives their backing to the Wind Industry. The Wind Industry peole do not live here and will not be answerable with their LLCs (Limited Liability Company ) status. We will be stuck with the structures, working or not.

Please do the hard thing and learn about the Wind Industry, about placement of turbines too close to people's homes, about the impact as seen in other communities and about the impact and problems found in other countries. Ask the hard questions and demand answers that make sense. For starters, "Why am I going to have to pay for the building of transmission lines to transmit power out of state when our state already supplies sufficient power? Why do the rates for electricity being paid by Maine's elderly and retired population have to go up so that people in other states get more and cheaper power? How do Wind turbines cut down on carbon dioxide generation when Maine's electricity generation does not produce a significant carbon dioxide footprint?"

Barry King's picture

If Nothing Else...

Thank you, Anne, for a well written, well researched posting. I am not able, at this point, to agree or disagree with your statements, but "If Nothing Else", you have inspired sufficient doubt in mind to motivate me to do further research on my own.

You are obviously an Opponent of Wind Generated Electricity and I, in theory, have always been a Proponent. After reading your article, however, I will admit that I don't have enough knowledge on the subject to speak with authority. I will change that, and whether pro or con, I hope that your article inspires others to learn more about the subject, as well.

Thank you, again, for contributing.
Barry

 's picture

in my back yard

everywhere you go in Maine you will see these things.
Yes, us back woods people are in love with the wild ness of maine.
We pay dearly for our remotness. We plow our own roads, we haul firewood. We put up with little electricity use on no sun days. We know nature in our back yards.
I believe Wind companies are not telling citizens and government officials the whole picture.
Last poll I voted in at Bangor Daily News. Anti-wind had over 1000 votes and pro-wind about 300. Where are these results?

 's picture

Case against wind power has been made and is correct.

But that doesn't mean we need to invent conspiracy theories to justify opposition to on-shore wind power farms.
Alan Woods asserts that NRCM can take donations fromwind power supports. That's true but it adds nothing to the issue and does not make his case that the NRCM is biased. That they can means nothing. You have to show that they have taken donations and how much. The NRCM has a very reasonable basis for supporting wind power - reduction in the use and transportation of fozzil fuels. They are just wrong on this issue. No conspiracy and no conflict of interests.
John Patrick has the issue right. I fully support his reasoning.

Alan Woods's picture

If this article is about nine

If this article is about nine Bills being submitted, why aren't they listed?

Here they are:

1. An Act to Facilitate Transparency and Accountability while Reducing
Electricity Costs (Rep. Leslie Fossel)
2. An Act to Prevent Harmful Health Effects of Wind Generators (Rep. Wes Richardson)
3. An Act to Allow Citizens Fair Notice in the Siting of Electricity Generating
Facilities (Rep. L. Dunphy)
4. An Act to Improve the Permitting Process for Wind Electricity Generating and
to Protect Maine's Quality of Place (Sen. J. Patrick)
5. An Act to Protect Maine Municipalities (Sen. Thomas Saviello)
6. An Act to Update Maine's Wind Energy Act (Rep. Jeffery Gifford)
7. An Act to Improve Maine's Renewable Portfolio Standard to Reflect Maine's
Uniqueness (Sen. Roger Sherman)
8. An Act to Enhance Energy Independence and Security (Sen. Thomas Saviello)
9. An Act to Protect Maine Ratepayers and Taxpayers from Harmful
Mandates (Sen. Thomas Saviello)

I know you can't judge a book by its cover, but these bills sound pretty benign to me!

Alan Woods's picture

NRCM Not Objective

This article states: "Vorhees, whose organization consults on wildlife surveys, said the claim that some projects are rammed through the process isn't true".

1) Let's remember that NRCM is just the name of the Maine state affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation (see http://www.nrcm.org/history.asp). I've been coming to Maine for a decade and always thought they were a state government organization. They are not. If you visit their website or read their literature you'll have a hard time finding this little factoid.

2) As a non-government nonprofit, they rely on donations. NRCM accepts donations from wind developers and others who stand to profit from industrial wind facilities on Maine's mountain ridges.

3) Voorhees says that it is not true that some projects are rammed through the process. Really, Mr. Voorhees? Have you ever heard of Stetson I? How about Stetson II? How about Rollins?

Alan Michka's picture

Polls of little value

Payne and Voorhees, like most wind industry proponents, frequently fall back on the "poll defense." The two polls they cite were commissioned by wind industry promoters. Naturally, they got the results they were after when they commissioned the polls. If you read the wording in these polls, you discover that the questions are a little akin to "Are you in favor of world peace?" They did nothing to ascertain the respondents level of understanding of wind power. They did nothing to screen respondents for knowledge of what onshore wind development in Maine would entail.

Because the Maine legislature quietly slid the current siting legislation through without the slightest discourse and under the cover of emergency legislation, the public was never informed of the plans or the consequences until it was too late. Well after the fact, we discovered that even those who crafted the legislation never bothered to discuss critical elements of the impact on Maine's landscape and the people who would have these things strong-armed into their communities.

It's unfortunate that citizens' groups have to take these actions, but in 2008, big mistakes were made in Augusta. It's time to make amends, and I applaud Friends of Maine's Mountains for playing a role in this.

 's picture

long term costs and education

costs are hidden everywhere.
Look at UMPI and there experimental turbine.
somedays a -.06 electricity figure.
A parrasitic loss is inherent in wind turbines as when no wind, they suck from the grid.
Wind companies explain a little of the "parrasitic" loss but not all.
How much electricity required for de-icing the blades?
Wind companies give you a 35% capacity and then tell you they power up so many homes.
Sounds good for the laymen, but we know UMPI (11%) and Stetson (17%) are well below 35% capacity and CMP must furnish the electricty to keep these things warm and ready.
Lawmakers make the wind companies tell he citizens all.

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