LURC chose to be uninformed on wind project

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State should take “no confidence” vote in LURC staff.

Last December, the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission staff recommended approval of a huge wind power project that will industrialize the mountains of Western Maine. This recommendation apparently favors the business interests of the prime applicant, Consolidated Edison of California, doing business under the name Maine Mountain Power, over the regulations governing the LURC decision making process.

LURC was formed with strong bipartisan support in 1971. LURC created protected mountain areas, “P-MA’s,” above 2,500 feet after the Maine Mountain Conference of April 1972. The 1972 conference included key politicians and policy makers of the time. The elevation of P-MAs was raised to 2,700 feet in 1975, but otherwise have stood the test of time for more than 30 years.

On Oct. 21, 219 people gathered at Saddleback Mountain for the second Maine Mountain Conference. Twenty-one presentations on various aspects of mountain ecology, geology and future visions were given in support of LURC’s P-MA subdistricts. One of the most informative and timely presentations was given by Dr. David Publicover of the Appalachian Mountain Club, entitled, “Balancing Wind Power Development and Conservation in the Mountains of Maine.”

Dr. Publicover presented information that identified 400 miles of commercially viable windy ridgelines in Maine, and stated that one mile of such ridgeline could potentially produce 10 megawatts of wind energy. Of the 400 miles of windy ridgeline in Maine, 30 percent is already in some form of conservation and prohibited from development.

Another 80 miles – including Redington and Black Nubble mountains – are too far from existing transmission lines and/or too close to the Appalachian Trail to be suitable industrial wind power development sites.

Dr. Publicover’s presentation did identify the remaining 200 miles of windy ridgeline as suitable industrial wind power development sites. At 10 megawatts per mile, this means there are potentially 2,000 megawatts of noncontroversial wind power sites in Maine. Mars Hill, currently the largest industrial “wind farm” in New England, is just 42 megawatts. Maine policymakers need to see Dr. Publicover’s presentation, and then regulate suitable locations for industrial wind power in Maine.

Unfortunately, the 2006 Maine Mountain Conference was boycotted by the Baldacci administration. They chose to be uninformed.

LURC director Catherine Carroll said: “I don’t deny there would be much to learn from this conference; however, in view that I have got wind power applications before me, I plan to keep a very neutral profile here.” She added, “It’s important to me that while this application is before me and I’m giving it a thorough review, (to make) sure I remain fair and impartial here. It would be the wrong thing to do, anyway, given my position.” (Sun Journal, Oct. 19)

The LURC staff recommendation overseen by Ms. Carroll restates the applicant’s arguments repeatedly, while omitting key testimony given in opposition to the development by interveners and members of the public. I hope the LURC commissioners will see the unseemly bias in the staff recommendation and vote down the re-zoning of high mountain areas for industrial development.

The LURC staff recommendation to rezone areas above 2,700 feet on Redington and Black Nubble mountains for industrial wind development makes a mockery of public participation in the regulatory process. The LURC staff recommendation seems to reflect the bias of the Baldacci administration toward the project developers, Consolidated Edison of California.

I further hope the LURC commissioners will take a vote of no confidence in the LURC director and staff responsible for such a politically motivated recommendation. The recommendation would result in wholesale rezoning of the high-elevation mountain areas of Maine that have wisely been protected since LURC was formed.

Richard Fecteau of Farmington was co-chairman of the 2006 Maine Mountain Conference. MMC presentations are available on the Web at http://www.matlt.org/conference.asp

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