The wind development industry is on the offensive – pressing its campaign to make rural Maine the power plant for New England. Its escalated efforts are, no doubt, due to the rising tide of citizen awareness and unfolding truth. The industry is getting some unwanted attention, the effect of which has been to spur industry representatives to supplement their deny, discredit and dismiss posture.
In Somerset County, Highland Plantation is targeted for one of these developments. In fact, in a few months, if granted a permit by the Land Use Regulation Commission, Highland Wind LLC will begin construction of a 48-turbine facility, the largest grid-scale wind development ever built in Maine. The unpleasant details of this project are rarely mentioned by the developers.
One of them, in a recent column, cited the size of a wind turbine foundation, about 80 cubic yards in his example, as evidence of the project’s low impact. What he didn’t mention was the other 1,611,020 cubic yards of mountain that would be blasted and excavated, according to his permit application, to flatten the mountain sufficiently for the construction of 25 miles of roads and the other 47 foundations.
This same developer’s Web site claims that if mountaintop wind turbines don’t work out, they “can be removed without leaving a trace.” The idea that 1.6 million yards of excavated mountain can be put neatly back in place is, I presume, part of the magic of wind. The statement’s dishonesty is exceeded only by its absurdity.
The project’s proximity to several of Maine’s finest scenic resources largely goes unmentioned. The Bigelow Preserve, the Appalachian Trail and Flagstaff Lake would be next door to this massive development. Outdoor enthusiasts, if they bothered to come anymore, would look out on 8 miles of formerly scenic mountain ridgeline covered with 400-foot-tall turbines, twice as tall as the tallest building in Maine.
If you like the view of a dark, starry night, the kind rarely found in many parts of New England, you’d better visit soon. Up to 35 new flashing red lights, visible from more than 30 miles away, would dominate our new night sky.
The industry doesn’t talk about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s concerns as revealed by the service’s statement: “As more facilities are built, the cumulative effects of this rapidly growing industry may initiate or contribute to the decline of some wildlife populations.” Declining wildlife populations – how does that benefit Maine, a state with a long-standing outdoors tradition inextricably interwoven with its wildlife? How many sportsmen will Maine attract with diminishing game and wind turbines littering our rural mountaintops? Can fisheries flourish in the fallout of sprawling ridgeline roads built on hundreds of miles of mountains?
The efficacy of land-based wind turbines is dubious. Estimates of their contribution to reduced carbon emissions are theoretical and based on elementary mathematics. In fact, Maine has no plans to check that these machines genuinely produce the emissions reductions that are claimed. In European countries, where large numbers of turbines are installed, emissions continue to rise, and a heavy dependence on imported oil and natural gas persists.
The governor wants to accelerate the taxpayer subsidy-driven development of Maine’s mountains over the next decade and signed emergency legislation two years ago to make sure that it happens. He severely restricted state regulatory agencies’ historic protection of our scenic resources. He and the wind industry want you to believe that the permanent destruction of many of our mountains is a reasonable trade-off for a 10-year jobs program.
An economy based on landscape and resource liquidation has a short life expectancy. An economy based on intact resources can be sustained indefinitely. Once built, these facilities leave little behind in the way of jobs – five or six for the Highland proposal – but the damage will remain for all future generations to witness.
Tremendous effort has been expended to protect and market Maine’s scenic character. Maintaining our “quality of place” was the priority once seen to be critical to our long-term economic well-being. It would set us apart from so many other places. With little thought or public discussion, that long-term strategy was abandoned by our state government to pursue the fast dollar, selling off Maine’s mountain ridgelines. This treatment of our state’s resources should be not only controversial, it should be unthinkable. It should have, years ago, landed on the scrap heap of bad ideas, right where it belongs.
To learn more of the facts about mountaintop wind turbines and to view eyewitness photos of what happens to a mountain in the construction of an industrial wind complex, visit highlandmts.org.
Alan Michka is a member of Friends Of The Highland Mountains.
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