State regulators agreed Wednesday to consider a scaled-down proposal for a controversial wind farm in western Maine near Sugarloaf/USA rather than force the developer to start the review process from scratch.
The Land Use Regulation Commission also named intervenors and set tentative public hearing dates for two less-contentious wind energy projects proposed for northern Washington and Franklin counties.
In the latest twist in an already complicated case, LURC voted 6-1 to essentially keep alive a revised application from Maine Mountain Power to build a wind farm in Carrabassett Valley.
The board opted to reopen the public record on the revised project, which proposes wind turbines on only one mountaintop instead of two, as originally proposed. The project’s critics had urged LURC to require the developer to submit an entirely new application.
“We believe this scaled-back project will still provide many important environmental, economic and energy security benefits to Maine,” Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for Maine Mountain Power, said in a statement. “At the same time, our proposal will restrict development on Redington and mitigate many of the concerns raised by the commissioners and opponents to the original project.”
Maine Mountain Power had hoped to build 30 wind turbines on Redington and Black Nubble mountains, generating enough emissions-free electricity to power 40,000 households.
The project sharply divided Maine’s environmental and conservation communities in part because the massive turbines would be visible from Sugarloaf ski resort and sections of the Appalachian Trail.
LURC surprised project backers and others in January by resoundingly rejecting a recommendation by its staff in support of the project.
Faced with defeat, Maine Mountain Power has since scrapped plans for the 12 turbines on Redington Mountain. The new proposal calls for 18 turbines, all on Black Nubble Mountain.
That change, coupled with pledges to permanently preserve the Redington peak, was enough for Maine Mountain Power to win support from the Natural Resources Council of Maine and other groups opposed to the original proposal.
LURC officials said they expect to hold extensive public hearings on the Black Nubble application. The commission held several days of hearings on the two-mountain project last year.
Representatives from Maine Audubon, the Maine Appalachian Trail Club and Friends of the Western Mountains, all of which opposed the original application, urged the commissioners on Wednesday to avoid a potential administrative “quagmire” and, instead, require a new application.
“Our entire case last time was based on a two-mountain project,” said Hope Jacobsen, an attorney for several of the groups. Forcing the parties to extract the Black Nubble data from the original application will only create “administrative conflict and confusion,” she said.
But LURC staff and representatives for Maine Mountain Power and NRCM disagreed, arguing that all of the information was easily accessible. NRCM has been advocating for restricting the project to Black Nubble Mountain only since last year.
“We would not be here if we did not think it was economically feasible,” Jeffrey Thaler, an attorney for Maine Mountain Power, told the commission.
In other wind-related news, the commission approved a list of intervenors for two other projects. Intervening parties are entitled to enter evidence during the review process as well as cross-examine other witnesses during hearings.
The following parties will be intervenors on Evergreen Wind Power’s application to build a 38-turbine wind farm on Stetson Mountain in northern Washington County: the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Washington County commissioners, Lakeville Shores, Maine Audubon, NRCM, Conservation Law Foundation and the Independent Energy Producers of Maine.
The commission set Aug. 8 as a tentative date for a public hearing on the project.
The following parties will be intervenors on an application to build a 44-turbine wind farm on Kibby Mountain in northern Franklin County: Friends of the Boundary Mountains, Maine Audubon, the Appalachian Mountain Club, NRCM, the Conservation Law Foundation, and Independent Energy Producers of Maine.
Public hearings on the Kibby Mountain proposal are tentatively scheduled for October.
NRCM, Maine Audubon and the Appalachian Mountain Club announced earlier this week that they would support the Kibby project. The three organizations have not declared their positions on the Stetson project.
By Kevin Miller
Bangor Daily News
7 June 2007
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