AUGUSTA – A majority of residents in Concord and Lexington townships, as well as Highland Plantation, have signed petitions opposing wind power development in their area of Somerset County.
A group of those residents traveled to Augusta on Thursday to present the petitions to the office of Gov. Paul LePage.
“We’re three small communities that have very few options left to us at this point,” said Alan Michka, a resident of Lexington and chairman of Friends of the Highland Mountains. “What we’re hoping with our trip to Augusta here is to engage the governor and make him aware of our situation in these communities.”
He said 77 percent of voting-age adults in Lexington signed the petitions opposing proposed wind turbine projects. Signatures are still being collected in the other two communities, but so far 56 percent of Highland residents have signed and 51 percent of Concord residents.
About a dozen people gathered in the State House Hall of Flags to express their concern about the projects and the expedited process set in motion in 2008 by state law. They presented 170 signatures to LePage; the three communities combined have 270 adults.
“The 2008 law rezoned our community for industrial development, and not a single resident or property owner was given a chance to comment,” Michka said. “We lost our right to participate, and we are here today to get those rights back in Highland, Lexington and Concord.”
While proponents have stated turbines would create clean electricity, reduce carbon dioxide and help eliminate people’s dependence on foreign oil, local opponents say they have been left out of the conversation and have little control over development.
Towns may pass ordinances to allow turbines in specific areas, but plantations and unorganized townships don’t have that legal capacity.
Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, disputed what locals claim is a lack of control by saying residents of unorganized territories still have the ability to change the expedited wind development law by introducing new legislation.
He said they are able to provide input during the permitting process when wind development proposals are submitted to the state. He also questioned where wind turbines are supposed to go, if not in areas with low population densities.
“Where is it we’re supposed to direct these projects and these investors?” he said. “You have to take a step back as a developer and wonder, ‘Where are we supposed to go here?'”
David Miller, also of Lexington, said at the press conference that he’s a native Mainer who served in the military and moved back to his home state to retire.
“We love all the traditional Maine sports and have been happy with our decision to return to Maine after so many years of absence,” he said. “That was until our state government sold us out to foreign and domestic interests and greed.”
After the press conference, the group handed the stack of petitions to Ken Fletcher, director of the Office of Energy Independence and Security. Fletcher, a former Republican state lawmaker from Winslow, said the governor supports new energy sources if they lower the cost to Mainers and if they can be done without a government subsidy. Fletcher said he will present the concerns of the residents to LePage.
“I know the governor is very serious that the people’s voice has to be heard,” he said.
In June, LePage told those gathered in Rockport at a town hall meeting that windmills are hurting the state’s quality of life.
“They are doing an awful lot of damage to our quality of life, our mountains,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s going to lower the cost of energy. I think in 10 years we’re going to be like Sweden and Denmark and we’re going to be swearing at ourselves,” he added, referring to a rapid increase in wind turbines in Europe.
People in Highland, Concord and Lexington say they want to be able to make decisions concerning prospective development in their communities. Specifically they are referring to proposed wind turbine projects by Highland Wind LLC and Iberdrola Renewables.
Highland Wind, led by former Gov. Angus King and former Maine Public Broadcasting Corp. president Rob Gardiner, withdrew an application to the state this spring to erect 39 turbines in Highland. But the two said they plan to revise it and re-submit it later.
Iberdrola Renewables started gathering wind data in Concord and Lexington in December.