The Land Use Regulation Commission is scheduled Wednesday to render decisions on two wind power projects, one of which amounts to a smaller version of the other.
The commission will decide whether to accept a staff recommendation to reject Maine Mountain Power’s proposal to put 30 wind turbines on Black Nubble Mountain and Redington Pond Range in Franklin County.
At the same meeting, the commission will also decide whether to accept a staff recommendation to reopen the record to consider a much smaller version of he same project with 18 turbines on Black Nubble only.
Some environmental organizations have said reopening the record would create a dangerous precedent because the commission has essentially already rendered a decision on the two-mountain project.
Jody Jones, a wildlife ecologist for Maine Audubon, said reopening the record would create an unfair process, similar to a jury hearing new evidence after it had already reached a verdict.
The commission rejected the Redington Wind Farm application in January in an unusual 6-1 vote that went against the staff’s recommendation to approve the project.
At that meeting, the commission directed the staff to come back with another recommendation, this one to reject the plan.
Since that meeting, Maine Mountain Power has essentially redesigned the project, removing the turbines from Redington Pond Range, the more environmentally sensitive of the two mountains.
In a letter dated May 9, Maine Mountain Power asked the commission to reopen the record to allow it to present information about the redesigned project which, according to Harley Lee, founder of Maine Mountain Power, removes many of the environmental concerns but retains much of the benefits.
Catherine Carroll, director of the commission, said the agency’s rules allow the record to be reopened at the commission’s discretion.
Reopening the record is not something the commission does routinely, said Carroll, but it is not unusual and in the case of the Maine Mountain Power project, she said she does not see the Black Nubble-only proposal as a new proposal.
The staff recommendation also calls for a supplemental public hearing to allow parties to introduce new evidence.
One of the intervenors in the application process, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, opposed the original two-mountain project but supports the smaller Black Nubble project.
During public hearings on the two-mountain project last summer, the Natural Resources Council suggested removing the turbines from Redington, which is both more environmentally sensitive and closer to the Appalachian Trail.
At the time, Maine Mountain Power said such a large reduction in the size of the project would make it financially unfeasible.
Friday, Dennis Bailey, spokesman for Maine Mountain Power, said the wind power company was looking for ways to reduce costs.
“We are confident we can do it,” he said. “What we want is for the commission to open up the hearing so we can present our case and explain why we think we can make it work.”
Bailey said it doesn’t make sense to require his company to reapply when more than 90 percent of the information about the Black Nubble project is already on the record as part of the Redington application.
“There are not going to be any startling new configurations,” said Bailey.
He said the new plan also calls for land on Redington Pond Range, one of the few 4,000-foot mountains in Maine, to be protected from development.
Jody Jones, of Maine Audubon, however, said her organization is concerned about the precedent that would be set if the commission reopens the record.
Jones said it is fair to reopen the record before the commission has made a decision, but not afterwards.
Allowing Maine Mountain Power to present the Black Nubble project at this point in the process would set a terrible precedent, she said.
Applicants with deep pockets would be able to continually reopen the record to tweak their applications, she said.
A better solution would be for Maine Mountain Power to submit a new application, she said.
“It has been eight months. A lot has happened. We need to view (the application) in the light of all that has happened,” said Jones.
She pointed out that the commission is also scheduled to discuss issues related to two other wind farm applications at Wednesday’s meeting.
Part of the commission’s criteria for permitting a project calls for comparing it to other sites.
“There are more appropriate sites in Maine,” said Jones.
By Alan Crowell
2 June 2007
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