The sponsors of the Black Nubble wind power project are once again going before the Land Use Regulation Commission to see if they can win approval of this scaled-down version of their project. This plan should go down as well. Even in its reduced form the Black Nubble wind farm fails to cross the threshold of benefit that should be required to allow the rezoning of this protected mountain zone.
I am a 25 year resident of Franklin County, residing full time in Jay. I am also a local physician and have been a registered Maine guide. I have hiked many times in the Saddleback-Redington region in all times of the year, and my wife and I recently finished hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine, so I am familiar with this terrain and others in the state.
I also have a strong interest in renewable energy, believing that shrinking our carbon footprint is vital to the health of our state and indeed our planet. However, I do not feel that this project will make a significant contribution in this regard and that a vital scenic and recreational treasure would be sacrificed unnecessarily.
Balancing economic and conservation needs, which is LURC’s charge, is a difficult undertaking, especially now when the face of Maine is changing more rapidly than ever. The recent Brookings report, “Charting Maine’s Future,” spends a great deal of time detailing the sprawl and suburbanization that is threatening the culture, recreation and economic prospects of our state. The report talks a great deal about the “Maine brand,” shorthand for the quality of life, natural beauty and recreational opportunities that we cherish and many seek.
It would be crass to look at our wild lands simply as props for our “brand” but at the same time it would be foolish to ignore their economic value and the central role they play in our state’s future. Indeed, our economic future depends as much on this as it does on developing our educational and technical infrastructures if we are to attract the young, talented people we need. Sacrificing an area such as this is a step in the wrong direction.
Much has been made of the renewable energy potential that the Black Nubble Range site offers. Yet, the challenges raised to the projections of this project have yet to be answered. In last summer’s hearings, Thomas Hewson, an expert witness, pointed out the transmission limitations of the power lines in western Maine and predicted that there would be no net renewable output because of the configuration of lines and the distance the power must travel to its place of use. In effect any new renewable inputs will compete against existing hydro and biomass power for transmission. To my knowledge this argument has not been answered. It has also been pointed that the output predictions given for this project are based on unquestioned suppositions and not on the sorts of hard calculations that a project of this scope and consequence demands.
In remote areas development, especially industrial development, should be clustered near other areas of development to prevent sprawl. The Black Nubble range project does not follow this basic guideline. Indeed, its distance from population centers makes power transmission more expensive and inefficient and contributes to sprawl of the worst kind.
Nor is this project necessary for the development of wind energy in Maine. The Mars Hill site is up and running and the Linekin Bay and Stetson Mountain projects promise far more power in much more suitable locations.
However, renewable energy alone will not get us out of the energy difficulties we face. Without comprehensive energy planning by our state and attention to demand management, no amount of wind power will successfully offset enough carbon to help us toward our targets of abatement. Energy conservation is the fastest growing and most economical new energy source being developed today and is the only one that saves us money.
It is ironic to me that the ills of mountain top removal are featured in many of the presentations by supporters of this project. Mountain top removal is a bad practice, without question, but putting wind towers on a protected mountain ridges is another kind of mountain top removal. Would we allow strip mining of our Maine mountain tops if they could provide us with low sulfur coal? I hope not.
In sum, I feel that the Black Nubble project does not fulfill the development standards that must be set to allow its construction in a protected mountain zone. The operator’s energy projections are weakly supported by data that has not been adequately scrutinized, questions about the capability of the existing transmission infrastructure have not been answered, and the reasons why alternative, more suitable sites are not preferred have not been given.
Steve Bien is a physician who lives in Jay.
13 September 2007