PORTLAND (AP) – Maine should streamline its regulatory review process for wind power projects while protecting important scenic areas from the visual impacts of wind farms, according to a draft report on wind power’s future in Maine.

The Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power plans to deliver the final version of its report to Gov. John Baldacci this week. It hopes to have the Legislature put the plan into law before the current legislative session ends in April.

The report aims to serve a road map on where in the state wind farms should be encouraged and how they should be regulated.

A big step

“This is a major step forward,” said Alec Giffen, director of the Maine Forest Service and chairman of the task force. “It’s going to put Maine in a position to be a leader in wind power and it’s going to preserve Maine’s quality of place.”

With interest growing in wind power, Baldacci last year appointed 16 people to the task force.

Maine, with a 42-megawatt wind farm in Mars Hill, leads New England in wind power generation but ranks 24th nationwide. The Stetson Mountain project under construction in Washington County is expected to add 57 megawatts this year.

The task force report says Maine should seek to be generating at least 2,000 megawatts of wind power capacity by 2015 and 3,000 megawatts by 2020. It would take 1,000 to 2,000 400-foot-tall turbines to generate that much power.

The state should identify which areas are acceptable for development and would be subject to a faster review by state agencies, the report says. Studies of wildlife impacts would still be required in those places, but visual impacts would be considered only under special circumstances.

The areas for expedited review cover all of Maine’s cities and towns, including the entire coast. They also include the outskirts of the unorganized territories in rural northern Maine, where wind farms in most cases would no longer require rezoning or have to “fit harmoniously” into the landscape, as now required.

The report also identifies areas of state and local significance where scenic impacts should be analyzed and considered. Those areas will include state and national parks, as well as mountains or lakes that have been identified as important scenic resources.

The report will help Maine reduce or avoid conflicts by planning ahead, said Pete Didisheim, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine and a task force member.

Lots of support

“There’s a very strong level of support for wind power in Maine,” Didisheim said. “But people want to be sure the projects are going in the right places.”

The wind development industry has been supportive of the report, while monitoring last-minute changes, said Dave Wilby, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers of Maine and a task force member.

By mapping areas where wind power would be encouraged, and clarifying and modernizing the rules, the plan would help reduce the risk for developers that might face opposition to their projects.

“Predictability is essential,” Wilby said.

Information from: Portland Press Herald, http://www.pressherald.com

AP-ES-02-09-08 1027EST

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