May 11, 2011

FMM asks LURC to deny Highland Wind chance to resubmit

By BJ Bangs, Irregular Staff Writer, 11 May 2011

FARMINGTON – Friends of Maine’s Mountains has requested the Land Use Regulatory Commission deny Highland Wind LLC “any further opportunity to submit an application for a revised project.”

The formal written request was submitted following Highland Wind’s May 2 letter stating its desire to withdraw its application for a 117-megawatt wind energy facility in Highland Plantation, stating it intends to resubmit it at a later time. The application was submitted to LURC Dec. 29. Comments from government review agencies were received two weeks ago.

“We are confident in our ability to address the comments and questions raised by the reviewing agencies,” said Angus King, a partner in Highland Wind. “However, we need more time to assess concerns raised by a few state agencies, particularly comments from the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department,” he added.

Speaking on behalf of Highland Wind, King also noted that Highland Wind did not want to be in a position, or put LURC in the position, of having to resolve these issues during or after a public hearing, making withdrawal the only prudent choice.

“FMM was initially pleased with the HW application withdrawal. But we con- sider it just a delaying tactic,” according to Susan Davis, executive director of FMM. “The words, ‘with intent to re-file at a later date,’ moved us to action,” she said. “Several interveners have expended considerable time and resources in efforts to defend the position that the Highland Mountains are an inappropriate site for an industrial wind development; all the while conforming to the compressed timeframes mandated by the Wind Energy Act. FMM asserts that Highland Wind is gaming the system, and that it is incumbent on LURC to deny Highland Wind LLC any further opportunity to submit an application for a revised project.”

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s comments on the wildlife were undoubtedly instrumental in Highland Wind’s withdrawal of their application, Davis said. In their comments, IFW stated that the substantial collective risk to wildlife resources indicates that the proposed site locality is not appropriate for intensive wind power development. Specifically, the project is likely to have negative impacts on two State Endangered and Threatened species, one state Special Concern species, three Significant Wildlife Habitats, and potential direct mortality to as many as eight state Special Concern species of bats. IFW concluded that this project, as currently proposed, would likely have undue adverse impacts to multiple high value wildlife resources.

Davis pointed out, “I cannot minimize the significance of this statement.” Last week, while attending the Maine Chapter of the Wildlife Society’s Wind Energy and Wildlife Forum in Orono, she said state and federal wildlife officials from Maine to Washington, D.C., were talking about the endangered species act, and said “that crossing that line is a non-starter.”

“Yesterday, UMO’s professor Daniel Harrison talked about the huge percentage of the landscape that is lost just by the roads that service these towers —you have to calculate 30 meters (120 feet) on both sides of the road when you calculate lost habitat, not just the footprint itself.”

In a prepared statement issued last week, King said, “Our goal is to develop a project that produces non-polluting 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’s partner, Rob Gardiner, confirmed this approach. “We are not going for a speed record here, we just want to get it right,” he said.

The Highland Wind project is located entirely in the expedited permitting area outside the high mountain zone. The Dec. 29 submittal reflects the elimination of all nine turbines from Stewart Mountain to preserve views from the Appalachian Trail and the Bigelow Preserve.

Generating enough electricity to supply 45,000 homes, according to the developers, the project would displace 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide. It is offering an innovative Wind for Oil demonstration project, including $6,000 in energy efficiency grants to households in Highland Plantation and free electricity.

A spokesperson says that residents would see their property taxes drop by 80 percent, and would receive over $2 million in payments as part of the tangible benefits package. Over $1 million is also being set aside for conservation acquisitions in the Bigelow area.

“We have carefully designed this project to have a high energy output but avoid high mountain, sub-alpine habitat. 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,” said King.

FMM is not a membership organization per se. It is an umbrella group for all the people, both individuals and literally dozens of citizen groups all over the state, from Woodstock along the New Hampshire border to Mars Hill on the New Brunswick border to Vinalhaven on the coast, who are fighting industrial wind. Friends of Highland’s Mountains is a member of FMM. FMM is providing educational and legal support for their work in the legislature, at the regulatory agencies and in the courts.

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