Maine land use regulators voted unanimously to approve TransCanada’s wind-power project in western Maine, but rejected a second poject by another group that had been scaled back after being turned down a year ago.
The Land Use Regulation Commission voted to allow a 44-turbine project near the Canadian border in Franklin County, saying TransCanada Maine Wind Development’s application answered its concerns that roads would be built properly, and birds and bats would be protected.
Commissioners also said the developer’s project would not present the same kind of intrusion on the highlands scenery as the project proposed by Maine Mountain Power, whose 18-turbine project south of TransCanada’s was turned down by a 4-2 vote earlier in the day.
“It doesn’t rise to the same level of uniqueness,” said Commissioner Gwen Hilton. “The (TransCanada) wind farm fits better with the landscape,” which she said features rolling hills that are lower than those where Maine Mountain wanted to put its windmills.
While approving TransCanada’s plan, commissioners said they want assurances enough money will be available for the removal of the towers at the end of their useful life. Those concerns will be expressed in a document to be written by the LURC staff recommending the project’s approval.
TransCanada, based in Calgary, Alberta, owns or has interests in North American pipelines and claims a power portfolio that includes nuclear, natural gas, coal, hydro and wind generation. It says its Maine project would turn out enough power to supply the needs of 50,000 average homes.
LURC turned back Maine Mountain Power’s scaled-back plan for a wind farm on Black Nubble Mountain in Redington and Wyman townships.
“I’m disappointed,” said Harley Lee, president of Endless Energy Co. of Yarmouth, which partnered with Edison Mission Group of California to form Maine Mountain Power. Lee said he was not surprised, given LURC’s January 2007 decision to overturn a staff recommendation and reject a larger version.
Lee said he was not giving up on the project, and expressed hope that a new process that’s being discussed in state government to review future wind projects can revive Maine Mountain’s proposal.
“It may not be LURC that reviews wind farms in the future,” Lee said.
In his State of the State speech last week, Gov. John Baldacci cited Maine’s “tremendous potential for wind power” as he announced a public-private initiative to develop Maine-made sources of heat and energy.
In turning down a 30-turbine proposal last year that also included towers on Redington Mountain, LURC said it was too intrusive on sensitive environmental areas and unsightly from the Appalachian Trail. Some of those doubts remained on LURC members’ minds Monday.
After some environmental groups that opposed Maine Mountain’s original plan advanced a scaled-back version, the company said in 2006 that the 18-tower project would not be viable because it would reduce the project’s power-generating capacity and increase capital and operating costs.
On Monday, LURC Commissioner Edward Laverty questioned how the project could have become financially viable in its new form. He also raised the issue of funding for decommissioning.
Hilton said she was concerned that approval of the Black Nubble project would suggest LURC is also poised to give a “green light” to other western Maine wind projects. Others said they still had questions about the visual impact on the nearby Appalachian Trail, and said they were puzzled by contradictory testimony on some issues before them.
The commission’s action drew criticism from Conservation Law Foundation, which supported both projects.
“By approving only the Kibby project and not the Black Nubble project, the commission sends a mixed message and has unfortunately elevated subjective aesthetic interests above the impending catastrophe of climate change,” said CLF’s Sean Mahoney.
Another environmental group, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a statement that LURC “could have taken two steps forward on clean energy for Maine; instead they took one.”
Maine already has one major wind power project on Mars Hill in the northern part of the state and another one is under construction on Stetson Mountain in eastern Maine.
By Glenn Adams
The Associated Press
14 January 2008
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