HIGHLAND PLANTATION – Saturday morning, Aug. 28, Angus King and Rob Gardiner of Highland Wind, LLC subsidiary of Independence Wind, Brunswick visited the assessors in Highland.
The company expects to resubmit its wind development application to the Land Use Regulation Commission in October. The original plan called for 48 wind turbines on eight-plus miles of ridge tops including Stewart, Witham, Bald Mountains and Burnt and Briggs Hill.
Originally, the application was submitted to LURC in Dec. 2009. A group called Friends of the Highland Mountains discovered deficiencies with the application which caused LURC to suspend the review. It was discovered the developers did not have TRI (title, right of interest) to a parcel of land needed to convey the transmission lines to the Wyman Station.
The lack of proof of the TRI caused LURC to deem the application incomplete although review had already began.
Saturday, King and Gardiner came to explain to the assessors and about 21 others in attendance what changes are anticipated in the next submission.
One change is the company may be withdrawing up to nine turbines from Stewart Mountain. This could be in response to opposition from the Maine Appalachian Trail Club which has filed for intervener status.
The other change had to do with “tangible benefits” and a “community benefit agreement” as re- quired by LD1504, legislation passed last April.
Under a new law originally sponsored by Senator Peter Mills, the wind developer must provide a plan that describes the tangible benefits for the host community or communities.
The plan for community benefits must be included with the proposal for regulatory review. Compensation to the host community must relate to property tax reduction, reduced electric user rates, economic development projects, land or natural resource conservation and tourism promotion or similar uses.
Amendments to the law reveal that a minimum community payment is required of $4,000 per wind turbine per year.
Highland Plantation’s First assessor Jo Dunphy said the town’s current valuation is set at $9 million. If the turbines are placed on their books, the town would be valued at $120 million. King and Gardiner said the wind facility would be paying around 82 percent of the town’s tax burden.
They also suggested the allowance of 500 kWh of free electricity for each year-round resident for the life of the project. Additionally they suggested a one-time grant of $6,000 per home to be used for energy efficiency projects such as window replacement, solar domestic water heaters and insulation. The grant money would be administered by a state agency such as Efficiency Maine.
The wind developers also mentioned that residents can purchase a Steffes heating unit with the proposed grant money. The thermal heating unit stores heat from electricity in high density ceramic bricks during off peak hours when electricity (from the reported wind source) is produced cheaper. Residents would have to pay $100 per year for a separate meter for these thermal heaters.
Highland assessor Jay Staton explained that the benefits are not applicable for everyone in town and there are only a few who would get a benefit from efficiency improvements. Meaning, there are residents who heat their homes with wood from their own wood lots and have homes that are already very efficient.
“There are a lot of people who have been misled. To me, the whole thing is a joke… In the last few months we’ve opened some eyes, but there are a whole lot more that need to be opened,” Staton said.
“I just don’t feel that the tangible benefits are enough for what we are sacrificing,” he explained.
And Highland resident Heidi Emery said, “Even if 82 percent of the tax burden was picked up by the developer, for us it’s not worth the sacrifice that we will give up.”
Discussion about land conservation around the county as possible tangible benefits also took place, but residents said they want to keep the money local to Highland.
Resident Greg Drummond asked why residents would think it’s a good idea to conserve some mountain top elsewhere in the county and destroy the natural resources in their own backyard.
Some of the residents in favor of the project were glad to hear about the community benefits, while for others it didn’t change their minds.
The tiny town with 26 year-round residential properties appears to be divided over the issue, with the majority now opposing it. Other communities such as Lexington Township have residents who have strong opinions about the development as well.
“I don’t feel any different about the project because of the additional benefits,” Dunphy explained. “I’ve been in favor of this project from the beginning. It could be a good revenue source for Highland.”
Dunphy said that at one point Highland’s mil rate was one of the highest in the state at 33.5. Currently taxpayers are paying 14.98 mils.
“I’m sorry that some feel fearful and some feel angry. I think they’ve had so much outside influence,” Dunphy said explaining that everyone is entitled to their opinions.
“If it goes through —great. If it does not, we’ll be no worse off then we’ve been in the past.”
“I’ve paid my dues living in Highland,” Staton explained. “Yes, I do drive 30 miles to get my groceries, but it is what it is and I love the area where I live, the tranquility and these mountains… and now they want to take that away.”
King was unavailable to return a call for comments before the Irregular went to press.
It is uncertain whether neighboring Lexington or Concord townships would see any financial benefits from the development. For those opposing wind development in these communities, additional concerns may be lurking.
Spanish giant Iberdrola (parent owners of Central Maine Power) has recently submitted an application to LURC for one meteorological tower in Lexington and one in Concord. This is an early sign that these Somerset County townships may be faced with additional wind development.