AUGUSTA – Foes of commercial wind power who want the Maine Legislature to address issues including noise, view impacts and property values suffered a setback on Tuesday when the committee that handles energy bills tabled a proposal to study these and other concerns.
The action was unexpected, but it signals that the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee is unlikely to endorse any major changes to the state’s wind power policies this year. That, in turn, reduces the chances that the full Legislature will vote for any measures that would be seen as harmful to the state’s wind power industry.
The panel plans to take up the proposal again on Thursday.
Earlier in the month, the committee was faced with 14 bills dealing with wind power. They were drafted by activists on behalf of residents who live near operating and proposed wind farms. One overall goal was to slow the pace of development and modify the Wind Energy Act, passed three years ago in the Legislature.
But the committee voted last week to table 13 of the bills, including a moratorium on new projects and tighter restrictions on turbine noise, and incorporate the most-pressing issues in a single bill. That set the stage for Tuesday’s action.
After a general discussion, the committee’s co-chair, Rep. Stacy Fitts, R-Pittsfield, offered a proposal. He wants to amend a part of the wind act that requires the governor’s energy office to assess the progress of wind development in Maine starting in December, 2013. Fitts suggested moving up the date to next March.
In addition, Fitts wants the energy office to review several broad issues by December of 2012. They include potential problems with permitting projects, visual impact standards, ways to consider the cumulative impacts on natural resources and a review of the map covering places eligible for expedited wind permits.
The committee’s other chair, Sen. Michael Thibodeau, R-Waldo, had another request: Find out if wind is adding costs to the bills of Maine’s electricity ratepayers. Then Fitts asked Ken Fletcher, the governor’s energy director, to estimate what his office would need to do all this work. Time, outside experts and $20,000 or so, Fletcher estimated.
Realization that the study would cost extra money brought the work session to an abrupt halt. There’s no point in passing a study bill if there’s no funding, Thibodeau acknowledged. He moved to table the issue and look into the financial angle before Thursday.
The committee’s move was upsetting to Monique Aniel, co-chair of the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power. What about the people who live near wind farms and came before the committee last month to testify about their health problems, noise impacts and diminished property values, she asked?
“The people of Maine are not being well served,” she said. “There are a lot of questions.”
Aniel said she remains hopeful that the committee will take some action on Thursday.
Chris O’Neil, who represents Friends of Maine’s Mountains, said he didn’t expect much from the committee, or from the study proposal. It’s more likely now, he said, that some of the previously-scuttled bills will be revived on the floor of the Legislature, without the energy committee’s endorsement.
“If they’re satisfied to ignore the groundswell of support for reform, they deserve to be run out of office,” O’Neil said.
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