BANGOR, Maine – From the front porch of his cabin on West Lake in Township 3 ND, Esu Anahata can look to his right and see where 14 wind turbines might be built on Passadumkeag Mountain.
He doesn’t want the turbines there. He fears that strobe lighting mounted on the turbines would be a nuisance at night, and that the turbines themselves would blight the beauty of his view.
So the nongovernmental organization co-founder had a question for the Penobscot County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday: Can tax break money commissioners hope to get from the turbines be used to blunt the adverse visual effect he would suffer from the turbines?
“This will considerably alter my view,” Anahata said during the commissioners’ public hearing Tuesday. “Maybe we want to take a look at how the funds are delivered.”
The project funds might find such a use, commission Chairman Tom Davis said, but not for Anahata: He lives in Hancock County, and the TIF funding the commissioners get could only be used for improvements in Penobscot County.
“It seems like I am getting caught somewhere between ‘unfair’ and ‘unfortunate,’” Anahata told Davis.
“It’s the American Way,” Davis answered.
Commissioners held a public hearing to allow residents to say how they would want to use the Tax Increment Financing funding the project would accrue if it earns a site permit. The permitting process is ongoing.
Very few, if any, of the 40 or so people who attended spoke in favor of wind power. Many were members of anti-wind groups reiterating that they felt wind power was a poor investment for the state.
They described wind turbines as scenic blights that reduce land values, create few jobs, overtax the state’s power grid and do nothing for Maine ratepayers. Wind power advocates, if there were any in attendance, did not answer the claims.
A tax incentive program for economic development available to all Maine local governments, a TIF permits a municipality or county government to use some or all of the new property taxes that result from an investment project within a designated district to assist in that project’s expenses and also generate economic development funds for the municipality.
A TIF with the county would provide the developer, Quantum Utility Generation, an alternative energy company based in Houston, Texas, with tax breaks toward the project in exchange for a portion of tax revenues, which may be used for county initiatives totaling $7.8 million over 30 years. The money would be used for economic development projects.
If approved, the TIF would be the first in Penobscot County, Davis has said.
The turbines would be 459 feet from base to extended blade tip. Each would generate 3 megawatts of electricity, according to the company’s proposal. Electricity would be collected in a 34.5-kilovolt line to run about 17 miles from Passadumkeag Ridge along Greenfield Road through Summit Township, Greenfield Township and Greenbush.
The project would include a substation in Greenbush and a connection to an existing 115-kilovolt transmission line on Greenbush Road.
Commissioners occasionally strained to keep the hearing on topic. Commissioner Stephen Stanley and Davis said they didn’t necessarily support or reject Quantum’s proposal, but supported the TIF program.
“We’re not pro or con about this. This is about creating jobs in rural areas,” Stanley said, adding that residents in unorganized territories lack many of the services more urban residents enjoy.
TIFs should not be used to support unviable business models such as industrial wind sites, Bangor resident Jim LaBrecque said. The sites operating now survive mainly on tax breaks such as the TIF and federal money, he said.
He declared wind turbines a matured technology and predicted they would end up littering the countryside once the tax breaks dried up. Maine isn’t getting a sliver of the supposed value these projects represent, LaBrecque said.
“That’s not what we are here for,” Davis responded.
Chris Hersey of Brewer said the issue was bigger than TIF money. Projects such as Passadumkeag Mountain force multimillion-dollar improvements to the grid that force increases in electricity costs for ratepayers who don’t benefit from wind sites, Hersey said.
Anahata questioned why anyone would want to develop the mountain, saying that doing so could ruin a pricelessly pastoral place, one of a diminishing number of such places across the nation.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is due to continue its review of the project with a meeting Thursday in Greenbush. The public is invited. A similar meeting was held in April. About 30 people attended.
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