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Kibby Wind Power Project hearings under way

A small, grassroots group dedicated to protecting the Boundary Mountains in northern Franklin County from a proposed 44-turbine wind farm is all alone in its opposition.

Friends of the Boundary Mountains had two spokesmen at Wednesday’s Land Use Regulation Commission hearing – Bob Kimber, an environmental author and advocate from Temple, and Colby College ornithologist Dr. Herb Wilson.

Traditional environmental allies against prior wind farm projects – Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Appalachian Mountain Club – are now supporting the project.

In the past two years, TransCanada has worked with environmental organizations to minimize the proposed wind project’s threat to wildlife and habitat. The company also has relocated turbines and reduced the project’s size, officials said.

LURC is holding three days of hearings at Sugarloaf/USA on TransCanada’s proposal to build the Kibby Wind Power Project.

If constructed, the Kibby project would generate about 357 million kilowatt hours per year, enough to provide the electricity for more than 50,000 average Maine homes, according to TransCanada. The plan calls for 44 towers, each about 41 stories high, to run along 13 miles of ridges on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range. If LURC approves rezoning the region to allow commercial development, work could begin in early 2008.

Kimber said the remoteness of the area should be preserved for future generations. He said the view of Kibby Mountain and the Kibby Range is “presently one of an undeveloped mountain and forest landscape. The proposed project would change that dramatically.”

“(The project) would introduce into what is now a region with virtually no permanent structures, machines that tower above the treetops and extend from the northern to the southern boundary of Kibby Township, not to mention the 27-mile transmission line from the project site to Stratton,” Kimber told the commissioners.

“This would be development and land conversion on an unprecedented scale.”

Attorney Juliette Brown, representing TransCanada, said the commission has a dual mandate.

“With respect to conservation and development, it must reconcile the need to protect the natural environment from uses that cause degradation versus the need for traditional, resource-based uses and reasonable economic development,” she said.

She said the area is not heavily used for recreation. Studies show static or declining use of backcountry areas while there is growth in attendance at parks near developed areas.

Commissioner Edward Laverty said LURC is trying to preserve the value of the land in its 10.4 million-acre jurisdiction.

“We are trying to limit development to where infrastructure is available,” he said.

He pointed to the existing transmission line capability that can bring the power generated at Kibby to the Bigelow Substation 27 miles away, as opposed to more remote, mountaintop regions far from any infrastructure.

Wilson said he was concerned about the adequacy of the bird data collected by TransCanada.

“Birds cannot represent themselves at these hearings. I consider that my job to do,” he said.

He said one in six birds runs the risk of colliding with turbine blades. He requested LURC allow TransCanada to build a smaller number of turbines and conduct a study in conjunction with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife on the impact.

Maine Audubon’s Jodi Jones said TransCanada has done appropriate studies and put together a plan to minimize any ecological damage. David Publicover, senior staff scientist from the Appalachian Mountain Club, said the project is well-sited and avoids areas of the Boundary Mountains that have high resource value.

By Betty Jespersen
Staff Writer

Kennebec Journal

4 October 2007