When former Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, proposed the legislation that resulted in the community benefits package law, he said the goal was for Maine residents to see a reduction in power costs.
When the Natural Resources Council of Maine negotiated the bill with wind power developers, however, the bill became “much broader than anything I envisioned,” Mills said.
Because the law refers to the community benefit as both an agreement and a package, “the developer has the ability to define its own benefit,” Mills said, “in which case it may not be an agreement at all.”
“I’m a skeptic about wind power,” Mills said, describing how wind farms create just a handful of permanent full-time jobs. Developers estimate eight to 10 long-term jobs for the $210 million-to-$230 million Highland Wind project.
Wind farms also are not projected to lead to a drastic drop in Maine electricity rates, Mills said, because the power is sold to the New England grid, where it’s dispersed among many consumers.
To be successful, turbines must provide an economic benefit to people who live with them, he said. The economic benefit could be accomplished by offering cheap electric power to current businesses or by enticing new businesses to the area to create jobs.
“If we’re clever about it, we could use the wind development as a way of bringing modern jobs into these older communities and saving them,” he said.
Residents ultimately have little control over whether wind farms in Somerset County receive regulatory approval, he said, but added that “whether you hate wind turbines or you think they’re the Second Coming,” residents do have control over using the development as best they can to improve their communities.
The community benefits package is a “hugely flexible tool,” but it requires people to cooperate with developers and become knowledgeable about the financial implications, he said. “My concern is, I don’t know if we’re up to it.”