Wind power hearing: Green energy versus green mountains

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CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Supporters of a plan to expand a wind power project in northern Franklin County told state regulators this week that it means clean energy, jobs and more tax revenue, while opponents said it would desecrate serene wilderness areas and hurt historical sites.

The two-day public hearing on TransCanada’s proposed expansion of its Kibby Wind Energy Project to Sisk Mountain in Chain of Ponds and Kibby townships wrapped up Wednesday. The Maine Land Use Regulation Commission is expected to make a decision on the project in the next few months.

TransCanada officials said they would like to begin the project this year.

The developer received approval in 2008 to build 44 turbines on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range in Kibby and Skinner townships. Twenty-two of the computer-operated turbines are online, and installation of the others will begin next week. The project is estimated to cost $320 million.

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TransCanada wants to erect 15 more turbines, each capable of producing 3 megawatts of power, on Sisk Mountain, which is next to the other project. The cost is estimated at more than $100 million.

Some commissioners asked TransCanada representatives during Wednesday’s morning session for some hard financial data to find out the cost to the taxpayers.

They also asked whether the company would seek a second tax-increment financing deal with Franklin County. A couple of commissioners noted that the request for a finance package after the first project was approved took them by surprise.

TransCanada representatives said that during the long permitting process for the Kibby project, costs increased from an estimated $270 million to $320 million.

The company hadn’t planned to pursue a tax break from Franklin County, but when the option was made available, they took it to offset the cost increases, a representative said. In that deal, Franklin County will get $4 million over 20 years to invest in the unorganized territory, and TransCanada will get about $9 million in returned taxes to put into the project.

TransCanada Project Manager Nick di Domenico said a TIF is not available for the Sisk Mountain expansion, and the company would not seek one if it becomes available.

During public testimony Tuesday night, Lauri Sibulkin of Phillips asked commissioners to give the industry time to show the financial data to determine the effectiveness of wind power generation before any more permits are issued to the industry. He also asked them to demand that the industry take five years of data to make sure the projects are “worth the chaos and damage they can do.”

Eustis Selectman Jane Wilkinson spoke in favor of the project. She said it makes great sense for TransCanada to expand the project in that area rather than doing it elsewhere, since it would be in close proximity to the Kibby project. She and other Eustis residents cited the good jobs, money spent in the small towns and the generosity of TransCanada to the town and other organizations.

Jonathan Carter of Lexington Township, an environmental activist, said he opposed the expansion.

The process of clearing areas in forests, making roads through mountains and erecting turbines for power generation is destructive to the environment, wildlife and the natural beauty of the area, he said.

People do not want to live next to turbines, Carter said. The county and state will get some money but it will be offset by a loss of tax dollars from businesses that depend on the setting for their income, and reduced property values.

Allen Wicken of Dallas Plantation, president of the Maine Lung Association, spoke in favor. The largest threat to everyone’s health is pollution in the air, he said.

The major threat is particulate matter in the air and depending on fossil fuels for energy and transportation, Wicken said. He asked commissioners to support the project.

Some conservation groups spoke in favor of the northern eight turbines but not the southern seven, saying they fail to pass the adverse impact test.

dperry@sunjournal.com

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