LEWISTON – Few Maine environmental groups are supporting a proposed wind farm near Sugarloaf Mountain – and that is prompting criticism from others worried about global warming.
“It’s frustrating,” said Robert Monks, co-founder of Democracy Maine, a group created to combat partisan extremism. “It’s fiddling while Rome’s burning.”
Critics say environmentalists are too worried about birds, vegetation and spoiled views, and not worried enough about the planet.
Traditionally, Maine environmentalists have focused locally, but the dynamics of environmental problems have changed, Monks said.
“We just can’t look parochially,” he said. “We have to avoid â€˜not in my back yard’ issues. Wind power is one step, a sober, thoughtful, sustainable energy that can begin to replace fossil fuel.”
Most environmentalists say they favor wind power, but not at the Redington Township site, which is near the Appalachian Trail and the Sugarloaf/USA ski resort, said Beth Nagusky, director of the governor’s Office of Energy Independence.
“It is perhaps a failure to look at the big picture,” said Nagusky, a former Natural Resources Council of Maine staffer. There are environmental concerns about the Redington Township windmills, but there is no energy solution that doesn’t have some drawbacks, she said.
“We’re not going to keep the lights on with conservation,” Nagusky said.
Public hearings on the $150 million project, which would produce enough fossil-free electricity to power 40,000 households, are scheduled for Aug. 2-4 at Sugarloaf/USA.
The project is proposed by Maine Mountain Power, owned by Endless Energy Corp. and Edison Mission Group of Irvine, Calif.
For weeks Maine’s best-known environmental group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, has urged Mainers to see Al Gore’s movie about the looming horrors of global warming.
But NRCM, which plans to announce its position at the public hearing in August, seems poised to oppose the Redington wind farm.
The group has two priorities: developing renewable energy and strongly protecting Maine’s wild places. “Those two strongly clash,” in the Redington project, said spokesman Peter Didisheim.
“We’re not opposed to wind power,” he said. The NRCM has endorsed other wind farms, including one being built in Mars Hill in Aroostook County.
But allowing huge turbines on Redington Township mountains would harm what he called a “cherished landscape.”
Except for Katahdin, no other place in Maine has mountains so rugged that provide such a wilderness hiking experience, Didisheim said. A flock of windmills would take away from that.
“The windmills would be 420 feet tall. That’s the size of a 747 stood upright,” Didisheim said. Some of the turbines would be about 1 mile from the Appalachian Trail.
Considering the location, environmental opposition is no surprise, Didisheim said. “I’d be hard-pressed to identify a location that would be more controversial than where this Maine Mountain Power proposes to locate.”
Maine Audubon agrees.
On its Web page, Maine Audubon said it recognizes the need for wind power, but the project would put “at excessive risk a number of ecological, recreational and scenic resources.”
The turbines would fragment and diminish one of the largest road-free areas in the state. The mountain area has 17 rare species of plants and animals, including the Bicknell’s thrush. The area also has “rare, sub-alpine forest” that needs protection, Maine Audubon said.
Birds, views â€˜pale’ to planet
One environmental group, the Conservation Law Foundation, favors the project.
CLF officially has a neutral position, but favors the 30 turbines because it’s a solution to global warming pollution, said Director Robert Gardiner. The foundation isn’t officially in favor until steps have been taken to reduce biological impacts, he said. In practical terms, “we are going to appear in favor.”
Like other groups, CLF is concerned about harm to the high-elevation habitat. Regardless of how the turbines are built, there’d be negative impacts, Gardiner said.
But it would be a shame for the hearings to focus only on the plight of birds, “considering that other areas are being torn up for coal mining,” Gardiner said.
“You have to take a very big-picture look,” he said. “Global warming is rapidly being recognized as the major problem facing the world.” Maine faces flooding along the coast and big changes in habitat.
“A lot of environmentalists are hoping backyard windmills can solve our problems,” he said. That won’t be enough, Gardiner said.
Protecting birds, mountain views and vegetation “pale” compared to global warming problems, he said.
“It’s time for environmentalists and everybody to embrace renewable energy projects that do make sense.”
By Bonnie Washuk,Staff Writer
13 July 2006
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