The Wind Power Task Force returned its final report to the Governor’s Office today, outlining goals and ways to expedite the regulatory process for wind power projects in Maine.
Governor John Baldacci ordered a task force formed last year. A mixed group of legislators, conservationists, state agency directors and private citizens were asked to develop a comprehensive plan for the development of wind power facilities in Maine. This was partially in response to the hotly debated Redington Ridge/Black Nubble and Kibby Range projects in northern Franklin County, which have pitted some conservation groups against one another.
The task force, which met 12 times, beginning in July 2007, concluded that Maine has great wind power potential, and sets goals for developing that potential.
“The Task Force concludes that Maine should seek to host at least 2,000 megawatts (MW) of installed wind power capacity by 2015,” the report reads, “and at least 3,000 MW by 2020. The Task Force believes that at least 300 MW of the 2020 goal could be achieved with projects built offshore.”
To help streamline the regulatory process, the task force recommends implementing “expedited review areas,” which include every organized town in Maine, and some of the area falling under the jurisdiction of the Land Use Regulation Commission.
Areas within the Unorganized Territories, would mean that a rezoning permit would not be required, as the development of wind power would already be a designated use. In Franklin County, (see map below) the areas outlined for expedited review include areas north out of Farmington along Route 27, to 10 miles south of the Canadian border, to the west in the Rangeley area and south along Route 17 near Byron.
The Redington Ridge/Black Nubble project, which was later reduced to be the simply Black Nubble project, was unable to gain the approval of LURC in regards to rezoning the project site. The task force’s concept of “expedited review areas” could shortcut that step, although the project’s developer, Maine Mountain Power’s proposed area for development was left out of the areas selected by the task force panel.
“It is unlikely that all conflict surrounding the siting of wind power projects can be eliminated,” the report notes, “but tensions can be substantially reduced through careful site selection by developers, and thoughtful involvement of Maine people in the permitting process.”
Other changes within an expedited review area would include restricting the consideration of scenic impact to “public resources of statewide or national significance,” as well as faster Department of Environmental Protection permit processing. The issue of scenic impact was the major stumbling block cited by the LUCR board as the reason for its denial of the 18-turbine Black Nubble wind power project in December 2007.
In addition, LURC’s permitting process would be limited to 185 days, similar to current restrictions on the DEP.
The task force also calls for an increase in the state’s support of smaller, household wind projects. A program, similar to the one that allows Maine residents to install solar power systems in their homes, would be implemented to help people pay for turbines. This could also include exemptions of the sales tax and other fees on wind power equipment.
Baldacci congratulated the task force, saying that Maine was committed in reducing its reliance on fossil fuels.
“You represent diverse interests and you worked diligently to produce this extraordinary consensus document,” Baldacci said in a prepared statement. He went on to note that he was “pleased to see the level of wind power development endorsed by this report, which would involve billions of dollars of capital investment in Maine.”
Baldacci has stated that he intends to release a Governor’s Bill, pushing the Legislature to consider implementing the suggestions of the task force at the soonest possible opportunity.
To read the report, go to http://www.maine.gov/doc/mfs/windpower
By Ben Hanstein
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