In separate decisions Monday, the Land Use Regulation Commission rejected one wind-power proposal but approved another that will be New England’s largest wind installation.
By a 4-2 vote Monday morning, the commission rejected Maine Mountain Power’s 54-megawatt Black Nubble Wind Farm, which proposed 18 turbines on that Franklin County mountain.
In the afternoon, the citizen board approved TransCanada’s 132-megawatt Kibby Wind Power project, which calls for placing 44 turbines on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range, both in Franklin County. When constructed, that project will be the largest of its kind in New England, according to TransCanada.
Together, the two decisions amount to a mixed bag for the state’s fledgling wind industry.
The Kibby project, when added to other developments that have been built or approved, means that roughly 4 percent of electricity powering Maine homes could come from wind by 2011, enough to have a small but real effect on price stability, according to a wind-power advocates.
Nick Di domenico, of TransCanada, said turbines could be erected on the site starting in 2009. He called the approval “very gratifying.”
At the same time, wind advocates say the Black Nubble decision underscores the fact that the approval process for generators is long and uncertain.
Harley Lee, a developer of the Black Nubble proposal, called the commission’s decision on his application a “wake-up call” for the need for a different way to approve wind-power applications in Maine.
Lee said that permitting wind power is difficult in New England in general, and particularly hard in Maine.
He said the Black Nubble rejection, which followed the denial a year ago of a 30-turbine proposal that would have included both Black Nubble and Redington Pond Range, added some urgency to the recommendations of Gov. John Baldacci’s wind-power task force.
That task force is expected to offer a report within weeks.
David Farmer, spokesman for the governor, said he expects recommendations from the task force to go to the Legislature this session.
Baldacci was disappointed that the Black Nubble project was rejected, said Farmer.
He said the law that the commission, which acts as the planning board for Maine’s vast unorganized territories, is required to enforce is old and not designed for wind power.
Providing developers with a more consistent and predictable process is necessary, said Farmer, although he said that changing the process doesn’t necessarily mean that more projects will be approved.
“You give (wind-power developers) a blueprint of the road they need to travel and they will have an easier time traveling it,” he said.
Maine has the largest wind-power resource in New England, a region where there is a large and growing demand for green energy.
More wind power would provide jobs, lower electricity rates and would be good for the environment, said Farmer.
During their deliberations Monday, commissioners cited impacts to natural resources on Black Nubble, which offers habitat for several rare animal and plant species, but spent more time on the development’s visual impact.
The 400-foot-tall lighted towers would have a dramatic impact on the Appalachian Trail, which comes within miles of the mountain, according to groups that opposed the application.
Commissioners also worried about the impact of building roads and erecting turbines in an undeveloped and remote area.
Commissioner Rebecca Kurtz said the application proposed to put what amounts to an industrial site on a mountain top and could affect both the visual impact and natural resources of the area.
“It just seems that there are some huge potential impacts,” said Kurtz.
Commissioner Steve Schaefer, however, said that he struggled with the idea of trying to determine the project’s visual impacts.
Some manmade structures, such as lighthouses or bridges, have a dramatic visual impact on a natural landscape but are still considered beautiful, he pointed out.
“What are we going to say about (wind turbines) in 200 years?” he asked.
After deliberations, the commission asked the staff to draft a recommendation to deny the Black Nubble application. The commission is expected to formally reject the application at a subsequent meeting.
Schaefer and commissioner James Nude voted against that motion. Commissioner Stephen Wight did not participate in the discussion or the vote.
The visual impact of the Kibby proposal was not as controversial.
Because of the topography of the area, turbines on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range would have a much smaller visual impact, according to commissioners.
Robert Kimber, of Temple, a member of Friends of the Boundary Mountains, a group that opposed the Kibby project, said, however, that he was disappointed by the commission’s decision.
He said he felt important values that the commission is charged with protecting, including the remote quality of the unorganized territories, were not addressed by the decision.
15 January 2008
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