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Wind energy foes say Maine lawmakers don’t give them a fair hearing

AUGUSTA, Maine – Addressing sharp criticism that lawmakers are hearing a one-sided, pro-development view of wind energy projects in Maine, Sen. John Cleveland, D-Auburn, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Energy Committee, said anti-wind advocates would have their time to weigh in on wind policy.

Cleveland opened Wednesday’s Energy Committee meeting by addressing the myriad emails and phone calls that committee members had received, bashing them for a perceived bias in scheduling speakers for Wednesday’s work session on renewable energy policy and a handful of wind bills carried over from the last session.

“We haven’t included public comments here because we’ve seen extensive public comment previously on these bills,” Cleveland said.

He also said the committee will hold further hearings in January, when the bills come up again.

“We’ll provide an opportunity for anyone who wants to speak on those bills to be heard, on those particular days, when we’re considering those bills,” he said. “There’s no effort not to hear every point of view.”

Wednesday’s meeting was the fifth in a series of discussions on state energy policy leading up to the second session of the Democrat-led 126th Legislature, which begins Jan. 8. Cleveland said the purpose of the meeting was for members of the committee to get an overview of the state’s regulatory and permitting system for wind energy.

The committee heard from Juliet Browne, an attorney for the Verrill Dana law firm in Portland, who has helped shepherd wind companies through Maine’s expedited permitting process; and Stacey Fitts, a former Republican legislator who chaired the Energy Committee and proponent of wind power.

The Citizens Task Force on Wind Power supports amending Maine’s Wind Energy Act, which they say made it too easy to build wind turbines over the protest of local property owners. They chastised the committee in a letter.

“Over the last four years you have heard hundreds of hours of testimony in this very room, from outraged, pleading, despairing, discouraged, dejected and depressed citizens from every part of Maine who are exposed, or potentially exposed, to the nightmare of industrial wind power,” the group wrote. “Yet you have done nothing at all to respond to their pleas. You act as though the citizens are your servants, not the other way around.”

Lenny Murphy, one wind opponent who attended the meeting, said the offer of later public comment wasn’t good enough. Public testimony is often time-limited, he said, whereas Browne and Fitts were invited to engage in back-and-forth dialogue with lawmakers.

“It’s the difference between a conversation and a testimony,” he said. “They’ll probably only give us three minutes each.”

Four bills seeking to tighten restrictions on wind development were carried over from the last session and will be considered by the Energy Committee in 2014. Cleveland said leaders of the Energy Committee were scheduled to meet with Gov. Paul LePage late Wednesday afternoon to discuss energy matters for the upcoming session.