A standing-room-only crowd filled the Field’s Pond Audobon Center in Holden, seven miles southeast of Bangor, to listen to four panelists address the question, “How might Maine develop land-based wind power as a renewable energy source while protecting ecological health and natural heritage?”
The very fact that this question was asked is significant. The Wind Power / Energy discussion has clearly matured way beyond the tacit acceptance of the inevitable as set up by Governor John Baldacci’s special Task Force on Wind in 2008. In fact, many present in the audience, overwhelmingly and palpably anti-wind, felt that the question was not the right one at all, that in fact we should ask, “Why Wind Power At All!” The event was covered by MPBN’s Maine Watch TV program out of Bangor, another sign of the interest in this subject.
Maine Audubon and the Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Chapter, co-sponsored the forum with a panel of speakers representing environmental groups and the wind industry. Sally Stockwell, Maine Audubon Director of Conservation, David Publicover, Appalachian Mountain Club’s Senior Staff Scientist and wind power expert, Bob Kimber, Maine author and conservationist and Neil Kiely from FirstWind, a developer of Maine wind farms, were the panelists. The moderator was Maine State Representative Bob Duchesne, Ranking Minority Member of the legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
After FirstWind’s presentation of the rationale and the developer’s science for doing wind energy, David Publicover of the AMC surprised some by acknowledging that the ecological and scenic concerns had not been properly considered. Of all the wind sites in Maine, only Stetson came close to having the least impact of all the proposed sites when primary criteria were considered. He wondered how many Stetsons might be out there, suggesting “not too many.” He also referred to the inherent imbalance caused by the two-tiered system of organized towns and unorganized townships, that sporting camps were an example of important cultural and scenic issues that fell through the cracks of the legislation. The special status these camps normally receive had been overlooked, something Publicover acknowledged needed to be corrected.
Sally Stockwell noted that the five criteria that governed the selection of sites might need a sixth, accounting for the cumulative stressors on wildlife that any combination of the other five criteria might precipitate. Both Stockwell and Publicover indicated that they had publicly opposed the expansion of Kibby, for example, because the siting failed on several counts previously agreed upon by the developers.
Bob Kimber represented the opposition elegantly and professionally. “Huge wind power should be abandoned,” he contended, moving instead to power developed closer to the user. He and others in questions and comments at the end noted that Maine is only producing electricity to export, not for use at home. Bob noted that the utility industry’s top lobbiest stated boldly, utilities can’t make money except by generating a lot of electricity in one place and transmitting it to the end user.
The audience struggled at times to remain civil, their distrust and dislike of the wind industry simmering beneath the surface as they asked their questions. It was very clear that of the many who asked questions, all were knowledgeable and well-read on the subject. Rebecca Holberton of the University of Maine noted that the environmental assessment here is totally inadequate, that there are no standards and there is no oversight of these developments, something none could dispute.
Bob Duschesne was a masterful moderator. Knowing that the AMC and Audubon had both participated in the task force, he asked the final question himself, “What would you have done differently?” Stockwell responded that the expedited process needed to be revisited. Kimber answered that the cultural implications needed to be considered from the start.. Kiely referred to Vermont’s method of holding educational forums throughout the state and then conducting a statewide poll, noting of course that Vermont scored wind best., Publicover was concerned that the public was left out of the debate entirely.
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