Another challenge blowing in the wind

There is an old expression to the effect that "bad things happen when good people do nothing." Thankfully, when it came to First Wind's grand plan to erect 27 43-three story wind turbines atop the mountains of Downeast Maine, a lot of good people did not stand idly by and allow it to happen.

A Downeast grass roots group, the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed (PPDLW), along with  the Maine Professional Guides Association, the Downeast Guides Association and the Sporting Camp Operator's Association, worked together to convince the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) that First Wind's project would do irreparable damage to the Downeast vista and, ultimately, the local tourism economy.

On April 20, the state regulatory agency rejected First Wind's application by a vote of 5-0. LURC's denial of the $135 million Bowers Mountain project marks the first time that First Wind has even been denied a construction permit. Obviously, there is reason for a big sigh of relief from guides, camp owners, outdoor recreationalists, store owners and others who treasure Downeast Maine's scenic beauty and traditional way of life.

“LURC’s decision to deny the Bowers project is true to its founding principles and Comprehensive Land Use Plan” said Kevin Gurall, President of the grass-roots opposition group Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed (PPDLW).

The area that would have been most impacted by the Bowers Mountain project, the Scenic Downeast Lakes Region, includes a network of some two dozen lakes. For more than a century, sportsmen and families from all over the country and abroad have come to the region to enjoy a wilderness experience devoid of industrial development. It is home to more than a dozen classic Maine sporting camps and boasts the largest concentration of Professional Maine Guides in the State.

In many ways, the LURC decision is as much of a surprise to First Wind opponents as it is to First Wind itself. When the controversy started, there were, among the Downeast outdoor community, respected individuals who remained skeptical, convinced from other disappointing life experiences that there was no way the little guy could fight city hall, so to speak. To its everlasting credit, the PPDLW folks proceeded to fight, undaunted by the formidable resources of a large corporation.

As it turned out, LURC was swayed by a straight-forward, compelling argument made by large numbers of citizens hellbent on preserving what might be called a quality of life. Gurall said it best,  “The Scenic Downeast Lakes Region is almost entirely dependent on sporting-and nature-based tourism for its survival.  Anything that takes away from the wilderness experience will affect tourism which will in turn cost many residents their jobs and their businesses. Clearly this is not the place to build an industrial wind project."

In its landmark decision, LURC acknowledged that the decision turned on the project’s failure to meet the Wind Law’s scenic impact criterion. Wind law legalities aside, there was always in the first place an element of unbridled audacity in First Wind's attempt to erect big wind turbines in a part of Maine that is renown for its scenic beauty. In defending their quest to erect wind turbines in scenic places, First Wind stated in its application, "Fishermen can orient their boats away from the turbines or situate themselves in one of the many coves if views of the turbines become undesirable. Or they may recreate at other nearby lakes with fewer views of turbines, if preferred."

And they were serious!

The LURC decision is good news, at least for now. But, alas, First Wind has indicated that it will be back for another run at the LURC gauntlet with a scaled down version of the Bowers Mountain project. First Wind’s Director of Communications, John Lamontagne, has said that First Wind will modify the application and resubmit it later this year. There is no rest for the weary, but, in this case, time is an ally of truth. More and more Mainers, who earlier had bought into the simplistic conclusion that wind turbines in Maine are a wonderful "green" solution for our energy needs, are learning that, by and large, Maine is not getting a justifiable economic or energy return from the wind turbines that mar the landscape.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM  101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com and his new book is "A Maine Deer Hunter's Logbook."

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Comments

Brad Blake's picture

Thank you, LURC!

Thank you, LURC! Forested ridgelines are not the place for these sprawling industrial wind sites. What is environmentally beneficial about blasting away miles of sensitive uplands, leveling hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of ridges, clearcutting hundreds of acres of carbon sequestering forests, and fragmenting wildlife habitat? What is environmentally beneficial about scalping our ridges and accelerating siltation and herbicide residue into our streams and lakes? All this harm for an unpredictable, unreliable, inefficient source of electricity that we do not need for Maine. All this harm for wind turbines that have actual output, capacity factor, of less than 25%!

If we continue via the heinous “Expedited Wind Permitting” statute to allow build out of the state’s arbitrary goal of 2700 MW of installed wind capacity by 2020, we will cover more than 300 miles of mountains and ridges with ugly, useless turbines that are as tall as 45 story Boston skyscrapers. We will have lost 50,000+ acres of forest and created a spiderweb of new powerlines to link these sites with the grid. We will have turbines on the doorstep of Baxter State Park, home of iconic Mt. Katahdin. There won’t be a single vista from our magnificent mountains that will not have turbines in the view. We will have spent more than $200 million dollars through the Land for Maine’s Future bonds (taxpayer money) to purchase Maine’s “special places” like Tumbledown Mt., only to surround them with wind turbines.

Have we forgotten that a good amount of Maine’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry comes from the attraction of the gems of inland Maine, the mountains and lakes? The influx of seasonal dollars for second homes, resorts, B & B’s and Maine’s traditional sporting camps and guiding services are worth far more than the fickle trickle of electricity derived from these wind turbines. Have we forsaken the recommendation of the Brookings Institute that Maine’s “Quality of Place”, the “Maine Brand” is its most important asset for the short term gain of wind site developers in pursuit of taxpayer subsidies?

The Maine media, including this paper, is totally wrong in its unquestioning promotion of industrial wind power in Maine. It doesn’t work, it isn’t economically viable, and it is ruinous of the beauty and natural resources of our state. Let’s keep Maine a special place and not allow it to become a wind turbine plantation for outside special interests.

Mike DiCenso's picture

windsprawl

Thanks Paul for noting the big victory for the PPDLW. The Bowers project showed that the developers do not have any idea about their impacts on the local areas their turbines affect, or they do not care. One of the worst places in the state for windsprawl was saved thankfully. As I look at the blinking red lights reflecting off the lake in Lincoln, I am sorry we could not prevail here in our attempts to stop the industrial folly. The local officials were too busy counting the TIF money to bother researching the issue properly and were too quick to pick the wishes of a well connected few over the hundreds of campowners and outdoors people who saw the industrial turbines for the scam that they are. The citizens' right to appeal was trampled in the process and the project is in violation of local zoning.. The people of Maine should demand that the wind developers show the public a complete map of all their proposed sites for wind development so we may see the cumulative effect on our scenic state. It wouldn't be pretty. The Island Falls lakes should be protected from industrial litter and the Saponac Lake- Nicatous area too. You can bet the developers couldn't care less about Maine's lakes and mtns. Note they do not want these industrial turbines in THEIR backyards in Mass.

Alan Woods's picture

First Wind...DENIED!

I'm glad that LURC understands the unique value of the Downeast Lakes Region.

1) It is an interconnected network of more than a dozen lakes.
2) Many of those lakes are recognized by the State of Maine for their outstanding scenic value.
3) Most of the land is protected via conservation trusts or easements.
4) Many of these lakes have virtually no camps on them. Those that do, are modestly developed with the camps hidden from view
5) The network of lakes is dotted with primitive campsites, most on islands, that require no reservation and are available free of charge on a first come first served basis.
6) There are numerous traditional Maine Sporting Camps.
7) The region boasts the largest concentration of Maine Guides.
8) There is a strong Tribal presence.
9) The fishing, hunting, wildlife, paddling, camping, hiking, etc are all excellent.

I think the only downside of visiting the Downeast Lakes is that to get there you have to drive past three First Wind grid-scale wind projects.

Thank you, LURC, for following your land use plan instead of some out-of-state wind developer's strategic plan.

Brad Blake's picture

More threats tp the Downeast Lakes Region

While we might savor for a moment that LURC actually said "NO" to a proposed wind power development, the magnificent Downeast Lakes region continues to be under assault from wind developers.

First Wind vows to come back to the same site with a different plan. These thieves can't take "NO" for an answer, sort of like the spoiled brat that has to get their way all the time.

On the western edge of the Downeast Lakes region, an application for a project for 14 turbines, each 459 feet tall, is under active review for Passadumkeag Mt. This is the highest point between Cadillac Mt. and Mt. Katahdin and overlooks Saponic Lake and West Lake, both high quality lakes and Nicatous and Duck Lakes, where taxpayer funds from Maine and the Federal Government have protected these lakes from development.

Over on the Canadian border, MET towers were erected on Greenland Ridge above East Grand Lake by Cianbro in January 2012. This has been met by the swift organizing of a group intending to preserve that end of the Grand Lakes in the same way PPDLW has done with the Bowers project. Their website is: http://keepitgrand.org/

As long as there are taxpayer subsidies, the Enron-inspired REC market, and arbitrary mandates for percentages of "renewable" energy supported by pandering politicians, the ruination of our beautiful state will continue. We must fight back and stop it!

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