Orland voters would be well advised to approve a proposed 180-day moratorium on wind power development at their special town meeting next Tuesday. The temporary ban would allow closer examination of the potential detrimental effects the three giant turbines proposed for Whites Mountain will have on the lives and property of those homeowners who live nearby.
Orland’s existing wind power development regulations, approved in 2011, were adapted from a state model ordinance developed several years ago. With the proliferation of wind turbines in Maine since that model was developed, the deleterious effects of the giant turbines on the environment and the peace of mind of those living in close proximity have become far more evident.
The mounting body of evidence has led a citizens group calling itself Friends of Dodge Hill to call for the distance between turbines and homes in Orland to be extended from the a half-mile, as regulations now specify, to one mile.
Not surprisingly, CEO Jack Kenworthy of Eolian Renewable Energy, whose firm wants to erect the three turbines, spoke out against the moratorium, as did wind power lobbyist Jeremy Payne, who heads the Maine Renewable Energy Association. While saying he respected citizens’ concerns about the distance between homes and turbines, Kenworthy claimed an extension of the setbacks likely would derail the project. And Payne charged that Friends of Dodge Hill is seeking to end wind development in Orland.
Wind developers have enjoyed special fast track status in Maine since former Governor John Baldacci persuaded the Legislature to approve the Wind Energy Act in 2008. That expedited status, coupled with the incentive of community benefit funds paid by developers to help buy local support, have provided relatively smooth sailing for numerous win projects, most of them of larger scale than the Orland proposal.
An investigative report by the Maine Center for Public Reporting, published last week, revealed the special access – and special treatment – accorded to wind developers and their lobbyists by top legislative officials, including Maine Senate President Justin Alfond. That access resulted in legislation that, had it not been derailed by a gubernatorial veto, would have further reduced the power of citizens to affect where the giant wind towers are built.
With the 127th Maine Legislature now in session, the wind industry is doing all it can to paint a rosy picture of its economic benefits to the state – likely in the hope that further legislation will be forthcoming to smooth the way for further development. A recent report – compiled by Charles Colgan, a former state economist, for the Wind for Maine advocacy group – boasts that the wind industry has spent $532 million and created 1,560 jobs in Maine over the past eight years. But most of those jobs likely were short-lived, ending when the construction phase of a project was completed. As Chris O’Neil, a spokesman for Friends of Maine’ Mountains, has observed, “the reality is that every penny spent on wind infrastructure is coming out of either our ratepayer pocket or our taxpayer pocket. The report mentions the income but not the out-go.
The small Orland wind project cannot be expected to produce much in the way of permanent jobs or economic benefit to Maine. If the three-turbine development is a viable proposal, surely it can withstand a 180-day moratorium. And if it is impossible for the turbines to be located at least a mile from the nearest residence, as the Friends of Dodge Hill has requested, the project probably should be abandoned.