Maine Land Use Regulation Commission regulators voted unanimously to approve TransCanada’s wind power project north of Stratton, but on the same day rejected Maine Mountains Powers request to rezone Black Nubble near Sugarloaf.
On Monday, Jan 14, LURC voted to direct its staff to prepare a decision document approving the zoning change and preliminary development plan sought by the Canadian corporation TransCanada. The project, located in Kibby and Skinner townships in northwestern Franklin County, calls for 44 three-megawatt wind turbines. The 132 megawatts facility comes after TransCanada conducted two years studying the environmental and engineering characteristics and meeting with local communities, state agencies and stakeholders.
According to TransCanada, the project would support Maine’s twin goals of energy independence and greenhouse gas reduction, while helping to stabilize regional electricity costs.
“The completed project would also contribute to Franklin County’s economic development and become a significant contributor to nearby communities. The $270 million project will employ up to 250 people for 12 to 18 months during construction. Once operational, approximately 10 to 12 full-time employees will be hired with permanent positions,” TransCanada said in a press release.
“We are very pleased that LURC recognizes the benefit of this project,” said Hal Kvisle, TransCanada president and chief executive officer. “Our team put a lot of effort into site selection, environmental review and working with the community and stakeholders to minimize any potential adverse impacts.”
The project which is expected to produce energy equivalent to the usage of 50,000 homes is expected to be commissioned in 2009/2010.
Commissioners said they wanted assurances that money will be made available by the developer when the turbines exceed their useful life for removal.
While Kibby was approved, a scaled back version of the Redington and Black Nubble project whose 30 turbines was shot down a year ago, got rejected by a 4-2 vote earlier in the day. The scaled-back Black Nubble 18-turbine proposal was still opposed by some environmental groups, but a change in support was gathered by others.
“It doesn’t rise to the same level of uniqueness,” said Gwen Hilton. “The (TransCanada) wind farm fits better with the landscape,” which she said features rolling hills that are lower then the proposed site of Maine Mountain Power, according to the Associated Press.
Harley Lee, president of Endless Energy Co of Yarmouth who partnered with Edison Mission Group of California to form Maine Mountain Power said he was disappointed, but not surprised. The feeling of not being surprised came from LURC’s 6-1 rejection in January 2007.
Lee told the Associated Press that he’s not giving up on the project. He mentioned that recent discussions in Augusta are leading to a review of suitable sites for wind power and could revive his wind power project.
In Governor John E. Baldacci’s recent State of the State speech he mentioned that he’d like to see a pubic-private initiative to develop wind power in Maine and develop Maine-made sources for heat and energy.
“We must move forward aggressively to heat our homes with resources we have or can make right here. We have made great strides in the development of wind energy,” Baldacci said. “We cannot be shy about new projects. We will rewrite the rulebook to make wind power development easier without compromising our environment. Maine has tremendous potential for wind power,” Baldacci said in his speech.
Commissioner Edward Laverty said he questions the economic viability of a “Black Nubble only” project which was suggested and supported first in 2006 by the Natural Recourses Council of Maine.
At that time, Lee said a scaled-back amendment would not be economically viable due to the loss of power generation and increased capital costs.
According to a statement released by NRCM, LURC made two important decisions on the future of wind power in Maine. “The commission could have taken two steps forward on clean energy for Maine; instead they took one,” said Clean Energy Director Dylan Voorhess.
“We applaud the commission for approval of the Kibby project. We believe both these projects should have been approved and Maine missed an opportunity today. These decisions send a mixed message to wind developers looking to invest in Maine.”
Voorhess stated that projects such as the Kibby, Mars Hill and Stetson Mountain will generate significant clean energy and will displace fossil fuel.
Wind farms generate power with no air emissions, no mercury and no global warming gases, he explained. “Whether you are concerned about the enormous threat of global warming, the ongoing problem of mercury in our fish and wildlife, or the development of a growing clean energy sector for our economy, these wind power projects make sense for Maine.”
The Conservation Law Foundation called the rejection a missed opportunity for Maine and stated that it was the only environmental group that consistently supported both projects as necessary steps to stabilize and reverse the impacts of climate change. The organization called the decision by the commission disappointing.
“Taken together, the Black Nubble and Kibby wind projects would have made a significant impact on Maine’s efforts to reduce global warming pollution and made the state a real leader in promoting clean, emissions free energy,” said Sean Mahoney, CLF’s Maine Advocacy Center Director. “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.”
According to Maine Audubon and its position on Black Nubble, Maine has much better choices for wind power. Mainers will come to deeply regret it if LURC Commissioners decided to approve this unprecedented project that would permanently devastate an exceptional natural resource.
The organization claims that Black Nubble is one of the more significant mountain ranges in the state and represents on-fifth of one percent of land at over 3,500 feet.
The group also claims that the mountain provides habitat for 18 rare or declining species of birds, bats and other animals.
“Black Nubble Mountain is the wrong place for a wind power project or any industrial development of this magnitude.” Maine Audubon had released earlier in the month siting guidelines meant to speed the approval of wind-power projects in Maine and to assist the Governors Task Force on Wind Power in Maine.
“We hope state regulators adopt these guidelines as policy and that wind-power developers use them to choose project sites that don’t threaten high-value wildlife habitat,” said Jody Jones, Maine Audubon wildlife ecologist. “The guidelines give wind-power developers a clear idea from the start what sites would be inappropriate for development based on wildlife concerns.”
“The guidelines outline the issues well,” said Steve Timpano, environmental coordinator with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “It’s a useful document and provides good information for the Governor’s Task Force.”
“Our hope is that the state will come up with clear guidelines that say what sites are good and what’s not. These guidelines are things that should be incorporated,” said David Publicover, senior staff scientist with the Appalachian Mountain Club. “They’re a good starting point for identifying issues, information needs and show-stoppers. But more work has to be done.”
“Maine Audubon should be applauded for bringing key parties to the same table to address the wildlife issues surrounding wind power,” said stakeholder participant Chip Ahrens, an attorney who represents wind power developers. “Group discussions like this that cover the issues from all sides will be the best way to move forward in identifying and implementing the changes needed to make the complex regulatory and permitting process more efficient.”
The guidelines are centered around five wildlife themes: unique natural communities, large blocks of undeveloped forest habitat, significant wildlife habitat, species that are endangered, threatened or of special concern, and bird and bat migration. For each theme the guidelines identify potential conflicts with wind-power development and criteria that would likely result in a project’s denial.
For now at least, the construction of the Kibby wind power is scheduled to start pending final design approval from LURC and Army engineers. Black Nubble wind development, near Sugarloaf and on the minds of commissioners as unsightly with views from the Appalachian Trail, is dead. This rejection decision, which is supported and now celebrated by some, drew and will continue to draw criticism of the commissioners from others.
“The failure to take bold action to prevent global warming will lead to significant changes in Maine’s temperature, precipitation and winter snow, drought periods and stream flows, and the levels of its coastal waters,” said Mahoney. “These changes will have real and substantial adverse impacts on public health, forests and farms, winter recreation activities and marine resources.”
“Together, the Black Nubble and Kibby projects could have generated almost 200 MW of electricity, enough to power almost 70,000 homes,” CLF said in a statement.
By David Hart
23 January 2008
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