Wind power blew back into the headlines this week in Maine. And that means more soul searching for environmentalists.
Sure, it’s easy to like the idea of powering our homes and offices with fresh mountain breezes instead of dirty fossil fuels. But, in practice, it’s turning out to be a little more complicated for Maine’s divided environmental community.
The week’s major development was the official last-minute reprieve for a doomed wind farm plan in western Maine.
The so-called Redington Wind Farm was headed for rejection Wednesday by the Land Use Regulation Commission, but rose from the ashes when the commission voted 6-1 to reopen its review.
The developer had asked for the reconsideration of a new scaled-down version that excludes 12 planned turbines on the Redington Pond Range and includes only the 18 turbines proposed for Black Nubble Mountain.
The new plan stands a much better chance of getting built because it doesn’t disturb the most sensitive areas and is farther from the Appalachian Trail. But it is still an example of how conflicted environmentalists can be on wind energy.
The Conservation Law Foundation, a strong supporter of the plan from the start, urged the commission to reconsider instead of killing the plan. According to CLF, global warming from fossil fuel use is a much bigger threat to the environment and wildlife than the wind turbines.
Maine Audubon, a steadfast opponent of the plan, argued against giving the developer extra time to regroup instead of having to start over. As Audubon saw the Redington plan, the impacts on wildlife and a sensitive natural resource outweighed the benefits of that particular wind farm.
And in between those two was the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which pushed for the downscaled Black Nubble wind farm as a way to balance the costs and benefits.
It’s clearly uncomfortable for the environmental groups to oppose an alternative energy project. So, three that had objections about the Redington plan ““ the Natural Resources Council, Maine Audubon and the Appalachian Mountain Club ““ got together this week for a public display of support for another, larger wind farm proposal.
The groups endorsed a plan for 44 turbines on Kibby Mountain in northern Franklin County, saying the developer agreed to scale back the project and relocate turbines to protect such critters as the northern bog lemming and the rare Bicknell’s thrush. The groups also said TransCanada agreed to help conserve other high-elevation lands in the area.
What environmentalist would object to that?
Well, the Conservation Law Foundation isn’t quite on board. The group sees the land conservation deal as a dangerous precedent that could drive other wind developers away from Maine’s mountains and hills. The idea should be to make wind power cheaper than oil and coal, not more expensive, according to CLF.
The spectrum of opinions may be unusual for the state’s environmental groups, but it isn’t, of course, for Mainers in general. Bandwagons generally don’t get much traction here, even with the wind behind them.
By John Richardson
9 June 2007
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