Maine’s love-hate relationship with wind power will face a big test Monday. Actually, a couple of them.
Two wind farm proposals could face up-or-down votes by the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, the zoning board for northern Maine.
All bets are off about whether the projects are in for a warm hug or a cold shoulder.
Both projects would be in the hills of Franklin County, and together they would double Maine’s wind power capacity.
The Kibby Mountain project, with 44 turbines, would become New England’s largest wind farm.
While smaller, the Black Nubble wind farm may get a cooler reception. Black Nubble includes just 18 turbines, but in a relatively remote, mountainous area near enough to the Appalachian Trail to draw passionate opposition from those who are protective of the 2,175-mile walking path.
Black Nubble also has a history with the commission that could make things awkward. It was originally part of the Redington Mountain project, which effectively got rejected by the commissioners last year. The developers salvaged the plan by scaling it back and asking for another chance.
What makes the outcome of Monday’s meeting especially hard to predict is that, unlike with other projects, the commission’s staff is making no recommendations to approve or reject the plans. The appointees who serve on the commission decided to go without the advice of staff members after opponents of the Black Nubble project accused the staffers of bias.
“I’m assuming they’re going to decide something. What? I just don’t know,” said Catherine Carroll, the commission’s executive director.
The developers of the two projects probably won’t be the only ones holding their breath.
Energy entrepreneurs already see Maine as a tough place to push wind. It takes years of persistence and lots of money to reach a rezoning decision like those expected Monday.
Approval of the projects could pump up the hopes of other developers. Rejection could deflate them.
The meeting comes as wind appears to be gathering momentum.
The land use commission gave final construction approval last week to the 38-turbine Stetson Mountain project in Washington County. That project could start generating power this summer.
On Wednesday, Gov. John Baldacci plugged wind in his State of the State address, citing Stetson Mountain as reason for optimism. He also promised new guidelines to help developers avoid drawn-out disputes over siting and impacts.
Baldacci didn’t put in any good words for Black Nubble or Kibby Mountain – that could have been considered improper influence of the commission. But he came close.
“We have made great strides in the development of wind energy. We cannot be shy about new projects,” he said.
The commission has shown it’s not shy. And on Monday, the commission’s job is to decide whether the two latest suitors are worthy.
Monday’s meeting will start at 8:30 a.m. at the St. Paul Center in Augusta. You also can listen over the Internet by going to www.maine.gov/doc/lurc
By John Richardson
12 January 2008
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