HIGHLAND PLANTATION – Prompted by a variety of concerns and a looming deadline to finalize plans, the developer of a proposed wind farm withdrew its permit application Monday but emphasized it will submit it at a later time.
Developer Highland Wind LLC withdrew its application to the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, which, if approved, would have allowed it to install 39 turbines on the ridges of Highland Plantation.
The company, operated by Independence Wind and led by former Gov. Angus King and former Maine Public Broadcasting Corp. president Rob Gardiner, has encountered several problems since it submitted its application Dec. 29.
Most recently, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife expressed strong concern about the project’s impact on species in Highland named to the state’s endangered and special concern lists. They include the northern bog lemming, Roaring Brook mayfly, spring salamander and several kinds of bats.
King and Gardiner ran into another obstacle in February when Pleasant Ridge Plantation officials denied them a permit necessary to string transmission wires from the turbine project over a town road. The town’s assessors denied the permit because they said the developer’s application to the town was inconsistent with a similar one filed with the state.
Then, in April, Land Use Regulation Commission board members invoked an exception within Maine law to review the impact of the wind energy project’s associated facilities – basically everything at the project site other than the wind turbines – under stricter rules. The decision means the developer will have to complete another assessment of its visual impact to the area.
“We are confident in our ability to address the comments and questions raised by the reviewing agencies,” King said in a statement Monday. “However, we need more time to assess concerns raised by a few state agencies, particularly comments from the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department.”
King said Highland Wind did not want to put either itself or LURC in the position of having to solve the application’s issues during or after the required public hearings, “making withdrawal the only prudent choice.”
No timeline was given to resubmit the application.
“Our goal is to develop a project that produces nonpolluting energy for Maine and New England, is environmentally balanced, and treats local people fairly. We have invested three years in listening to feedback to ensure that this project meets or exceeds every legal requirement, so taking another few months to carefully evaluate these concerns is well worth the time,” King said.
The project’s opponents, however, said they would prefer that King and Gardiner permanently withdraw their project’s application.
Monday’s announcement marks the second time their application has been withdrawn. Review of their permit was suspended in April 2010 until the developer could demonstrate ownership of all the property it planned to use.
“I believe they have recognized the fact that there are incredible obstacles to this development. We would prefer to see them withdraw the application for good,” said Karen Pease of Lexington Township, a member of the nonprofit Friends of the Highland Mountains.
When LURC deemed King and Gardiner’s application complete this February, it meant they then had 270 days until LURC made a decision on the permit, Pease said.
Friends of the Highland Mountains has already spent several thousand dollars on expert witnesses to testify at public hearings this summer, she said.
“So now we are back to not knowing if he’s going to resubmit; when he’s going to resubmit; will our expert witnesses that we booked for July be able to do it another time? It’s an incredible imposition on the intervenors,” Pease said. “They’re using the expedited law when it suits them, and when it no longer suits them they’re pulling out and putting the burden on all the intervenors.”
Alan Michka, chairman of the nonprofit’s board, agreed. “It’s becoming obvious that this is a project that should have been abandoned a long time ago. There are just too many negative impacts in exchange for a negligible energy benefit,” he said. “Many of the people in the affected communities would, frankly, just like to see it go away – for good.”
In its release, Highland Wind emphasized the project is located outside the high-mountain zone. It stated the project would generate the equivalent of enough electricity to supply 45,000 homes and would displace 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
The developer already eliminated nine turbines previously planned for Stewart Mountain “to preserve views from the Appalachian Trail and the Bigelow Preserve,” according to the release.
It is also offering $6,000 in energy efficiency grants to Highland households, plus more than $1 million for conservation acquisitions in the Bigelow area.
“We believe that two years of field research show environmental impacts to be less than or consistent with previously permitted wind projects, so we look forward to using the additional time to provide the documentation the agencies have requested,” King said.
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