Harley Lee has a legitimate complaint. The state’s wind power task force excluded Redington Township – the site of Lee’s twice-rejected wind farm – in mapmaking where wind projects should receive expedited review.

This appears the lone dose of politics in the task force’s report, which is a refreshing, pragmatic assessment for changing Maine’s convoluted regulatory environment regarding wind energy. The report was worth the wait.

Not because its findings are earth-shattering. The report’s value comes from its frank disclosure: Maine’s approach to wind power is outdated and must be changed. This has been obvious. It is now fact.

Like any road to recovery, the first important step is admitting there’s a problem.

For Maine to capitalize on its wind potential, it must have processes indicating these projects will get a fair review. The track record, so far, is shaky, and has been dictated by subjective opinions about scenery rather than science.

The task force wisely recommends the definition of scenic, when it comes to wind energy, be rewritten. It also realizes the regulatory agencies tasked with reviewing wind projects lack expertise about the energy industry.

Having the Maine Public Utilities Commission chairman join reviews of wind projects is a sensible, but superficial, suggestion. The PUC – which knows the state of Maine’s electricity landscape best – needs an upfront role in evaluating wind power as a utility.

Wind power should trigger three reviews: site (zoning), impact (environment) and production (utility). These should logically go to the Land Use Regulatory Commission, the Department of Environmental Protection and the PUC.

These agencies could develop an expedited review procedure, which once in place, should help Maine generate 3,000 megawatts from wind by 2020, about one-quarter what New England needs to meet regional benchmarks.

It’ll take more than friendly regulators, however, to reach this milestone. Yet the report skimps on developing state economic incentives for wind projects, necessities for Maine to compete with other states in luring projects.

Two faithful economic standbys – tax increment financing and Pine Tree Zones – are the proffered suggestions, which is odd, because if Maine would develop a new regulatory approach, it should also devise unique incentives.

Shoehorning wind power into aged regulatory framework doesn’t work; neither do economic incentives for hotels, retail stores and vacant commercial properties fit major utility projects in Maine’s rural landscapes.

The task force, however, was assembled for one primary purpose: easing the review and permitting of wind farms, a goal it accomplished by admitting the prevalent problems, and recommending solutions. The task force addressed every question about wind power, and emerged with consensus on an issue plagued by controversy.

But the task force artfully dodged the Redington issue. Lee is right – by most criteria, the site is opportune for wind power, yet its exclusion from expedited review essentially erects a barrier to development.

The task force report, we believed, was supposed to settle Redington.

With the exclusion, perhaps it has.


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