AUGUSTA – Officials with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection say a decision today by a state board to overturn its denial of a proposed wind farm on Passadumkeag Mountain threatens the state’s scenic character.
Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection voted 5-1 today to reverse DEP’s permit denial of a proposed 14-turbine, 42-megawatt wind farm atop Passadumkeag Ridge in Grand Falls Township. The board’s decision authorizes Texas-based Quantum Utility Generation to move forward with the development of the wind farm once DEP writes the permit as ordered to do by the citizen board.
The state’s leading environmental agency had rejected the application in November because the array of 459-foot-tall turbines would critically compromise views from Saponac Pond, considered a scenic resource of state and national significance. Analysis concluded the turbines would be visible from 97 percent of the pond, creating an adverse effect on the pond’s character and existing uses dependent upon it, such as fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
The decision was the first denial of a grid-scale wind project by the DEP and came after six months of review. It was celebrated by the region’s residents and visitors who recreate or make a living by guiding within view of the 1,470-foot Passadumkeag Mountain.
In its appeal of the department’s decision, developer Quantum and landowner Penobscot Forest LLC contended the value DEP placed on scenic character was “arbitrary” and because there were already small camps and a history timber harvesting operations on the mountain, it was already developed.
“My predecessor picked wind as the energy favorite, and that came at a high price for Maine people and our state’s natural resources and outdoor heritage,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “While the initial—and largely taxpayer funded—investment in wind-power projects may be attractive to some, one-of-a-kind views like the ones from Saponac Pond have great value, and are long-term drivers of Maine’s tourism and natural resource-based economy. I applaud DEP for subjecting wind-power projects to the same robust review as other industrial development in our state. I am deeply disappointed in the Board of Environmental Protection’s decision. To say camps and logging operations have the same visual impact as 459-foot-high turbines flies in the face of common sense, and it is an insult to Maine’s centuries-old sustainable forestry community.”
DEP Commissioner Patricia W. Aho said her agency reviews each wind-power application thoroughly, making its permitting decisions within the context of the state’s environmental standards.
The Passadumkeag project was the first reviewed under a new internal process established by Commissioner Aho that requires two public meetings instead of one on all grid-scale wind projects to ensure transparency. Dozens spoke out passionately at those meetings and sent written comments to the department expressing serious concerns about how the project would dramatically degrade the region’s character.
“We not only heard those citizen concerns loud and clear, but when we looked at the photo simulation of this project, we could see them,” said Commissioner Aho. “Our agency is entrusted to review each site on its individual merits within the parameters of the State’s standards. Sometimes we need to say no, and the board’s vote today calls into question whether we can truly do that when it comes to mountaintop wind development. I stand fully behind our licensing staff’s decision that this was the wrong project for this special place.”
Every decision made by DEP on whether to permit grid-scale wind power has been appealed. Today’s vote marks the first time the Board of Environmental Protection has not upheld a department decision.
There are three other proposed wind developments now under review by DEP, including FirstWind’s 18-turbine Hancock Wind and 16-turbine Bowers Wind and Patriot Renewable’s eight-turbine Canton Mountain project.
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