On Jan. 24, the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) will make a decision that will determine the fate and future of Maine’s mountains. That commissioners will decide whether to retain 32 years of protection for Maine’s highest mountains, in return for allowing an ill-conceived industrial wind turbine project to be built atop Redington and Black Nubble mountains in Western Maine’s High Peaks region.
A well-funded public relations campaign has developed catchy, but misleading, promotional materials that claim this project will help stop global warming and air pollution. So moving is this false message that well-intentioned people – who live nowhere near the mountains – allowed themselves to be bused to the LURC hearings on the project to support Maine doing its part to stop global warming and lung disease by allowing this project.
The developer’s sales pitch has even found its way into the LURC staff’s recommendation that the project be approved. The hours of live testimony and volumes of written testimony, covering technical, financial, social, economic, environmental, and community opposition to the project, have been dismissed and relegated to the recommendation’s appendix.
Personally, I am in favor of wind-power development, but in the right location. I drive a hybrid car, heat my home with biodiesel fuel, and understand the need for action on global warming. I can empathize with individuals and organizations anxious to just get going and start doing something. I draw the line, though, on supporting absolutely anything that comes along without due consideration of its effects. This is easy in this case, because the benefits of this proposal are hypothetical.
The damage it will cause is not.
We are already doing something. Maine has the largest wind project in New England at Mars Hill. We produce more electricity than Mainers can use, so the power from that plant will be sold to New Brunswick.
Thoughtful criteria for siting wind turbine projects advise locating them on developed land, close to existing roads and power lines, and away from undeveloped and remote areas. Across the country, farmland and cattle ranches have provided excellent sites for wind power development, providing power for the public and additional income for farmers and ranchers. Wind projects on agricultural land have been proposed for Maine.
Those are the projects we should be supporting, not experimenting on fragile ecosystems.
The footprint of the Redington project will bisect one of the state’s largest roadless areas, in a region of 4,000-foot peaks prized for its natural beauty. It will deposit 30 huge turbines on sensitive subalpine habitat, and impose 24 miles of roads and 11 miles of transmission lines through the heart of Maine’s western mountains.
The environmental, social, and economic consequences of building a wind plant in this location are so great, that if the LURC commissioners are persuaded to approve this project, no other mountain ridge in Maine will be safe from development.
New financial incentives for wind power are encouraging many new developments. The stakes are high, and it is little wonder wind developers are trying to steer the arguments away from the damage this project will cause.
If wind power is to be successful in Maine, we need to proactively develop regional recommendations for places that wind should – and should not – be sited, rather than reacting to proposed projects in locations chosen and owned by a developer.
There are many less environmentally vulnerable sites than Redington and Black Nubble for industrial wind power. Most would be less complicated and expensive to build upon. The rare habitats, majestic landscapes, and the special remote and wild character of the High Peaks region of Maine can’t be relocated.
Wind towers can.
Devaluing the qualities of special natural places, underestimating construction damage, over-exaggerating the benefits of energy development, and stressing the need for trade-offs are familiar tactics used by energy developers.
LURC should keep its wits and continue to protect Redington and Black Nubble from such activities.
Carole Haas is the administrative director of the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust. She lives in Cape Elizabeth.
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