Save the highland mountains from industrial wind

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I have been advocating for wind power for decades. I never thought I would see the day when I would be opposing wind power development. However, the current frantic rush to install industrial wind on every viable mountaintop is both shortsighted and ecologically damaging.

All one has to do is look at the impact of the Kibby TransCanada industrial wind operation in the remote boundary mountains of western Maine. This is nothing more than industrial wind mountaintop removal. It is being driven by dollars and cents, not ecological sense.

To call mountaintop wind operations “farms” is nothing more than public relations. Farms suggest a positive relationship with the land. The industrial wind operations are nothing less than massive electrical generating facilities that destroy the quality of a place and pose serious health problems for both humans and wildlife.

When Gov. John Baldacci announced the formation of the Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power, I thought, “good idea John.” Never in my wildest dreams did I think this task force would submit to the Legislature an expedited wind permitting law that fast-tracks industrial wind development in an area covering two-thirds of the state.

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This bill was passed by the Legislature in 15 days, with little to no public involvement or debate. The fact is that the expedited wind law was, to a large extent, written by the wind developers whose primary interest is green money, not green energy.

This law gives the go-ahead for potentially 360 miles of industrial wind turbines on Maine mountaintops. This would result in the building of thousands of miles of additional power lines and roads. It would require the clearcutting of more than 50,000 acres of carbon-sequestering forestlands. Literally the tops of the mountains are blown-up in order to establish a bedrock base for the massive concrete pads need to support 400- to 500-foot turbines (more than 40 stories high and higher than the Statue of Liberty!).

In addition to the destruction of habitat, these massive wind machines, the blades of which move at more than 180 miles an hour, sweep more than an acre of space and broadcast high volume sounds which have literally driven people in Maine from their homes.

The proposal by Independence Wind for the highland mountains is a perfect example of how the new expedited wind law will open the doors for wind developers to destroy the essence of a rural community by turning the mountains of Maine into something more analogous to the Portland Jetport.

The Highland Mountains are right next to the Bigelow Preserve. This development would undermine the wild character of hundreds of miles of the Appalachian Trail. The whole Bigelow Range would be confronted with an upfront, in your face, string of 48 turbines with their noise, shadow flicker and flashing red lights.

In leveling the highland mountains, 1.6 million cubic yards of blasted debris, enough to fill a 100,000 truckloads, would be moved. If those trucks were lined up, they would stretch all the way to North Carolina.

North Carolina has put a moratorium on mountaintop turbines because the people there recognized that turbines would degrade the mountains which define their state and are a major economic driver in the form of tourism and outdoor recreation. What has Maine done? It has passed an expedited law that will fast track industrial mountaintop wind.

Some environmentalists have been drawn into believing that if you are not for covering the mountains of Maine with wind turbines, then you are acting against the unfolding disaster of climate change. That is a false dichotomy. Global warming is a catastrophic crisis, but the solution is not to destroy the pristine character of the Maine mountains. The industrial wind mountaintop frenzy sweeping across Maine is not tied to shutting down an oil or coal power plant. It is simply feeding our gluttonous consumption of more and more energy. It makes no sense to destroy our mountaintops to feed that appetite.

There are better alternatives, the first being conservation. It is no secret that if the federal subsidies (as much as 60 percent of cost) being poured into industrial wind were invested instead into efficiency and conservation projects, the reductions in carbon emissions would dwarf those potentially created by mountaintop industrial wind. It would also create thousands of more jobs for local communities. If these funds were used for forest restoration, the reductions per dollar expended would be even greater.

Maine, a state with one of the highest renewable energy portfolios, already produces more than enough energy. In fact, we export energy. It has been estimated that Maine and the rest of New England will have excess capacity for the next 15 to 20 years.

If we allow this mountaintop wind gold rush to continue, after the rush has played out, Mainers will be left with the tailings of a despoiled landscape and the magic of the mountains gone forever.

Jonathan Carter is director of the Forest Ecology Network and a board member of Friends of Highland Mountains.

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