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Homeowners clash with wind power supporters at Maine hearing

State lawmakers are considering a series of bills that would place new restrictions on wind power development in Maine. In Augusta Monday, the legislative committee considering the proposals listened for more than two hours, as angry homeowners and environmental activists clashed with a diverse array of wind power supporters.

When Maine lawmakers voted to fast track wind projects three years ago, they did so unanimously—swayed, in large part, by a glowing report from former Gov. John Baldacci’s wind power task force. It argued the state could seize control of its energy future, become a leader in the industry and create a job-rich, new economy.

Supporters say Maine is well on its way to fulfilling these promises. But as turbines continue to sprout up, so do the number of voices questioning the state’s embrace of wind. Wendy Todd lives near Presque Isle in Mars Hill.

“Turbines are visible in any direction–you cannot come up my driveway without them dwarfing my home and my property,” she told lawmakers. Todd says the dream house her family built in 2005 will never be the same now that First Wind has erected 28 turbines nearby.

Another homeowner, in another part of the state, feels the same way. David Wylie lives on the island of Vinylhaven, where residents have complained about turbine noise from the Fox Islands wind site. “We are convinced that the noise from Vinylhaven project has diminished the value of our homes,” he said. “So when people say, ‘If you can’t stand the noise, why don’t you move?’ We have to tell them, ‘We can’t afford to.'”

Both Wylie and Wendy Todd were in Augusta, trying to persuade lawmakers to support a bill that would offer them some relief. LD 1042 would require wind energy companies to compensate landowners living withing three miles of the base of a turbine, if their property values decline.

But industry supporters question the need for such payments. “Wind power development has been proven time and time again not to negatively impact property values,” said Jeremy Payne, who runs the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

Payne told lawmakers a 2009 study from the University of California at Berkeley, conducted for the federal government, found no link between declining home prices and proximity to wind farms.

Other bills before the committee would regulate noise levels from turbines and place tough new environmental restrictions on wind power companies looking to secure permits. Brad Blake is with the Citizens Task Force on Wind Power. “Hundreds of miles of Maine’s uplands are going to be blasted to hell to put these things in,” he said.

Blake has been leading the fight against the Rollins wind farm, a First Wind development above Lincoln Lakes. But where Blake sees degradation to property values and the environment, others see a vital source of jobs in rural communites hit hard by mill closures and cutbacks in the forest products industry.

“I’m here today because wind power has changed my life for the better,” said Joel Williams. Back in 2009, Williams was out of work–unable to support himself or his son. The following year a contact introduced him to his current employer, construction firm Reed and Reed, which has been hired by First Wind to work on the Rollins project.

Since joining the company, Williams has worked steadily and is now able to make his child support payments.
“Those 300-foot wind towers out there that you guys see, they’re not just 300-foot eye sores, they’re 300-foot trophies.”

It’s a point industry supporter Jeremy Payne emphasized over and over in front of the members of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. Seventy-two businesses in your districts have benefited directly from wind projects, he told the lawmakers, before asking them to vote down any bills that would slow the industry’s growth.