With Maine’s spot as New England’s largest generator of wind power already well-established, state regulators on Monday will consider two more projects that would produce enough clean power to keep the lights glowing and toasters cooking in more 70,000 homes.
On Monday morning, the Land Use Regulation Commission will take up a preliminary development plan by Maine Mountain Power LLC to rezone 487 acres for a scaled-back, 18-turbine project on Black Nubble Mountain in Redington and Wyman townships.
In the afternoon, LURC weighs the preliminary plan by TransCanada Maine Wind Development Inc. and Plum Creek Maine Timberlands LLC to rezone 2,367 acres for a 44-turbine project in Kibby and Skinner townships. Both wind projects are in western Maine’s Franklin County.
Taken together, they would provide 186 megawatts of power – four times the output of Maine’s first major wind farm. Evergreen Wind Power LLC’s 42-megawatt Mars Hill project in northern Maine began cranking out power a year ago.
TransCanada says its project would churn out the electricity needs for more than 50,000 average Maine homes – or all of the households in Franklin, Oxford and Somerset counties. Maine Mountain’s output would provide enough power for at least 20,000 homes.
TransCanada’s Nick Di Domenico said the company feels confident going into Monday’s session. The Calgary, Alberta-based company has worked hard to address concerns of all groups concerned with the project and believes it would contribute to the state’s policy of reducing reliance on fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy, he said.
Other benefits include hundreds of jobs for construction, significant tax revenues to the town of Stratton and an economic development boost to a region of the state that has lost jobs in the logging and wood products industries, supporters say.
If and when a new, clean source of energy can be harnessed in the future, the windmills can be taken down, so they present no permanent intrusion on the land, said Maine Mountain spokesman Dennis Bailey.
Like Di Domenico, Bailey said he hopes the LURC board will vote on the wind projects Monday.
“We are hoping they will make a decision,” said Bailey.
Maine Mountain, a joint venture of Endless Energy Co. in Yarmouth and Edison Mission Group of California, says its Black Nubble project presents a much-improved alternative to an earlier, 30-turbine project that would have also included towers on Redington Mountain.
A year ago, LURC rejected that project as too intrusive on sensitive environmental areas and unsightly from the Appalachian Trail.
Due to the strong public reaction the Maine Mountain project generated previously, the LURC board decided to take the unusual step of holding a deliberative session on both windmill proposals, said agency Director Catherine Carroll.
Because the record was closed following last fall’s hearings on the projects, no public testimony or comment will be accepted Monday, when the commissioners will essentially debate and discuss proposals. While Carroll said no vote is expected at Monday’s public session, but a date could be set for a final decision.
Di Domenico said that even though the board does not have a staff recommendation before it, he anticipates a decision.
“The commission in our view has everything it needs to make a decision. I would anticipate an up-or-down vote Monday,” he said. Di Domenico said the board could also signal which way it is leaning by directing the LURC staff to come back with a report recommending approval.
Bailey also believes the board can vote if it wants to, saying, “There’s nothing procedurally preventing them from doing so.”
Other state agencies overseeing wildlife, the environment and other issues have been working with the applicants on their proposals, so they won’t conduct separate reviews. However, separate permits may be needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
While some conservation groups have lined up in support of the two wind projects, others are on LURC’s record as opposed, Carroll said.
Maine Audubon and clubs of Appalachian Trail users, in addition to some smaller organizations, oppose the Black Nubble proposal, while the Conservation Law Foundation supports it. The only group opposing TransCanada’s plan is Friends of Boundary Mountains.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine joined in support of the Black Nubble project after it was scaled back.
“We’re bullish on wind power, as long as it’s appropriately sited,” said NRCM’s Judy Berk.
Maine, with its expansive open spaces and remote mountain ridges where winds blow steadily, has become attractive to developers who have made the state the largest producer of wind power in the region.
Its place will be more firmly established in about a year when the 38-turbine Stetson Mountain project in eastern Maine, now under construction, is due to be completed. Together with Mars Hill, the two will churn out 99 megawatts.
Adding in the two projects in Franklin County if they are allowed to move forward, major Maine wind farms will be turning out 285 megawatts – enough power for more than 100,000 homes.
As of now, all of the remaining five New England states have a total of 13 megawatts of installed wind power, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Noteworthy among the region’s proposed projects is the 468 megawatt Cape Winds project off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
By comparison, New York has 390 megawatts of installed wind power, California 2,376 and Texas, the nation’s leader, 3,953, according to AWEA.
By Glenn Adams
Associated Press Writer
13 January 2008
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