On Saturday I attended the open house hosted by Iberdrola Renewables at their new field office in Bingham. I didn’t want to spend my day ‘off’ this way…didn’t want to drive 50+ miles in the frigid temperatures to enter the Lion’s Den. But how could I NOT go, when this proposed development is slated to be built directly behind my family’s home – and will surround the homes of my friends and neighbors? How could I not go when we, as a community, have told this global company that we are opposed to their project and have asked them to abandon it…and yet, they are moving full-steam-ahead anyway?
I’ve studied this topic of ‘grid-scale industrial wind’ for more than 5 years. I’ve looked at every facet of it – and from every angle; the cost, the impacts to environment, wildlife, property values, health and quality of life. I’ve learned about its energy properties and how it affects the grid; I’ve read about the sub-standard mining practices to obtain the rare earth metals used in production, the pollution involved in manufacturing the huge components (often in countries with no carbon protocols), the transportation of towers, blades and nacelles, the deforestation, the slope-side and ridge-top excavation, the mechanical failures and catastrophic events such as fires and ‘component liberation’ and ice throw. I know where to go to get the data on how much (or how little) electricity these projects produce. I’ve talked to scores of people who live with industrial-scale wind turbines in their communities. I’ve talked to doctors, acoustics engineers, wildlife biologists, soils scientists and landscape engineers. I’ve attended public hearings, work sessions and community meetings. I’ve listened and watched and read and asked questions.
I’ve done my homework.
Because of that, I know how these corporate wind developers work. They have an actual ‘playbook’ put out by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) – and today’s open house was ‘textbook classic’.
The project manager of the newly named ‘West Range Wind’ project is a pretty young woman named Jenny Briot from Radnor, PA. The regional director is an older gentleman; Donald Hammond from Portland, OR. Hired as consultants and also in attendance were Kleinschmidt’s Kerry Strout (another pleasant girl whose job is ‘community outreach’) and Alec Jarvis – who was the former project manager for First Wind’s Bingham Wind project. Also there was Bingham resident Steve Small, a retired Madison Paper Company employee who has been hired to try to drum up local support for the project.
I want to share some of my experiences and conversations from this event. I’ve ‘been here before’ many times…observing in other venues as developers try to romance individuals within a community…and I’ve read the industry’s own instruction manual on how to ‘gain local support’. These instructions are quite specific and even go so far as to detail the type of clothing that team members should wear when interacting with locals who are ‘rural’. AWEA doesn’t think rural people can judge a book by anything other than its cover. They believe we country folk aren’t very trusting of people in business suits so it is suggested that the developers dress like their audience in order to be better accepted in their target community.
The women were dressed in jeans. Jenny’s hair was in a pony tail. Kerry wore a long sweater and LL Bean boots. Alec was dressed in a spanking new, bright red and green flannel shirt. Donald wore a dress shirt and slacks…but left his tie at home. No, they weren’t ‘suits’. They were nice, friendly, attractive people. Textbook classic.
The largest percentage of attendees at the Bingham open house were people who live HERE – in Lexington, Concord and Pleasant Ridge – and who are opposed to the project. These people politely voiced their opposition. They asked Iberdrola to abandon the project. They asked them NOT to try to turn neighbor against neighbor. They asked Iberdrola to respect their wishes and go home.
When I mentioned our signed petitions, project manager Jenny told me she’d seen them – and didn’t care about them. She said her job (and Kerry’s job, as well) is to meet INDIVIDUALLY with everyone in the ‘community’ to ascertain the ‘level of support’. Their job is to ‘sell’ the project to locals and ‘suggest options for mitigation’ of the project’s impacts. Plainly speaking (something they do NOT do…which is also ‘by the book’) their job is to try to change minds and drum up support. Their job is to recruit people who will speak in favor of the project to DEP when the time comes. Jenny said they will call locals, politely ask to visit them in their homes and then talk about the ‘community benefits package’…those mandated “$4,000.00 per turbine” tangible benefits that all wind developers in Maine use to entice locals. Wind developers work on the premise that most local people haven’t educated themselves – and so these folks will be more malleable and susceptible to believing the stories told by the corporate ‘outreach’ facilitators. Iberdrola knows that people in this region are not wealthy – and they rely on the notion that folks who are strapped for cash will take any carrot dangled in front of them, regardless of the long-term affects such a high-impact project will have.
On separate occasions I asked both Jenny and Donald why they wouldn’t meet with us as a community. I invited them to Lexington, where we would provide them an open forum to make their case to ALL OF US at once…and where we could ask questions and they would be required to give their answers in front of us all. That way…everyone would get the same answers.
When pushed, each of these Iberdrola representatives finally agreed to meet with us ‘as a community’…but only AFTER they’d had the chance to speak to every local INDIVIDUALLY, first. PERIOD. End of story. They refuse to do it until after they’ve ‘reached out’ to individuals.
Plainly speaking again…they want the opportunity to try to buy the support of the people in these communities with proposals for monetary gain. One of the propositions they’ve already begun using in their effort to change our stance is the possibility that locals will receive yearly checks to help pay CMP power bills (don’t forget…Iberdrola is the Spanish company which also now owns CMP)…bills which have become increasingly more expensive in the last few years. What many don’t realize – and Iberdrola counts on that! – is that this increase directly corresponds with Maine’s build-out of wind and the costs associated with delivering its intermittent electricity to the high-consumption regions of southern New England. The MPRP (Maine Power Reliability Project) – that $1.4 BILLION project being financed by CMP rate-payers – is just one example.
Iberdrola had maps of the project area on the walls and one desk. When I asked Donald why none of the maps showed the turbine arrays, he told me Iberdrola didn’t yet know where the turbines would be placed. But was that truthful? It certainly doesn’t appear to be.
I said “The maps you supplied to DEP several weeks ago show where the turbines will go. I have a copy of them, myself. Can you tell me why – if this ‘open house’ is truly an attempt to give locals real information about the project – why would you not give us the opportunity to see where those 33 turbines will be placed?” He grew increasingly uncomfortable and had a hard time meeting my gaze. He repeated that nothing was set in stone yet…and studies were still being conducted.
That was the standard line during the open house. The developer wants us to believe that they haven’t decided to build this project. That they aren’t ready to submit their application. Jenny continually repeated that her job was to ‘gauge the level of support to see if the project was a good fit’ for the area. She repeatedly stated that the project was still ‘proposed’ and their submission of an application is not a sure thing. And yet…they’ve paid good money to renovate an old building and open a ‘field office’. They’ve spent millions of dollars (a figure they did not dispute when I made that claim) on met towers and ‘studies’ and consulting firms and engineers. Iberdrola has also purchased a large supply of tee shirts, hats and bags with the ‘West Range Wind’ logo on them – and there they were in front of us…free for the taking, of course. The logo includes a bold, colorful map of our region of Maine with “West Range Wind” written across the bottom. That same logo is emblazoned on one large window of their new office.
Still, they want us to believe that this company – which has been working on this project since 2010 (at least) – is just feeling us out. That nothing has been decided; that studies haven’t been analyzed…and that they aren’t committed to pushing this project through if they possibly can.
How arrogant they are. And how insulting. As if we are so simple-minded and gullible as to believe without question that this company isn’t prepared to give their very best efforts to industrialize these townships’ mountain ridges.
I stood behind Donald as he showed the map to one man who was asking questions about Highland Plantation. “Are you talking about this Highland project I’ve heard about?”
Donald waved his hand over the square that depicted Highland Plantation and told him that they weren’t there at the open house to discuss Highland…YET. Those negotiations, he said, would be with Wagner..and right now, all Iberdrola was working on was the Plum Creek aspect (Lexington, Concord and Pleasant Ridge) of the development project.
Not Highland…no. Not ‘yet’.
Jenny professionally fielded questions about Highland in another ‘classic’ way. “We have no plans to increase the size of this project. It is a 100 megawatt project and frankly, we believe 100MW is all this project location can sustain.”
That statement was designed to alleviate fears that the wind development might spread to other nearby locations.
“We have no plans…” she claimed.
We heard those same comments before First Wind ‘grew’ the size of the Oakfield project after DEP approved it. We heard them when First Wind applied to build the Bull Hill project…and now they are proposing a ‘Bull Hill Two’. We heard those claims when Patriot Renewables proposed the Beaver Ridge project…until they tried to lease/purchase the next ridge-line in Freedom for an expansion. (Residents pooled their resources and purchased the whole mountaintop specifically to keep that expansion from happening.) We heard it from Trans-Canada regarding the Kibby Wind project along our Boundary Mountains…right up until the time Trans-Canada submitted a permit application to expand the Kibby project over onto Sisk Mountain.
We’ve learned to listen. These are professionals who arrange their words very carefully. The subsidiary called “West Range Wind” may very well be able to sustain only 100MW. But ‘West Range Wind II’ could sustain another 60. ‘West Range Highland Wind’ might sustain 60 more. Each of these projects stand alone. They are wholly owned subsidiaries…independent of each other. TODAY, all we were allowed to hear about is Phase One – ‘West Range Wind.’ But if history is any indication, this project just sets the stage for the next one and the next one. We would be naive (and would show we hadn’t learned a thing from our experiences) if we were to believe this global developer isn’t interested in expanding its wind projects – especially into Highland, where Angus King and Rob Gardiner have already completed most of the hard (and expensive) field work.
Over and over again, residents asked the Iberdrola team to respect our wishes. We asked them, please, not to try to divide our communities. It is very important to us that our community (and our SENSE of community) remains intact. Over the past 6 years we’ve seen the fabric of small Maine towns torn apart by ‘wind’ and we don’t want to see that happen here…where we live and work and love and commune.
We asked the Iberdrola representatives to put themselves in our shoes. Asked them to imagine that they’d bought a home in the country…a retirement home or a safe place to raise their children; a peaceful place to enjoy the quiet, the dark night sky, the wildlife and seclusion. Asked them to imagine that for 10 years – or 20 or 30 or 40 years – they’d invested in their home. Improved it, farmed it, shared it with others. Renovated, built outbuildings, created ‘cottage industries’, built structures where they could enjoy their hobbies or entertain outdoors or work on their vehicles. Asked that they imagine that their investment in ‘home’ was their only REAL investment –the place where they’d invested their money, their love and their energy. And then…we asked them to imagine losing it all because an industry with a large-scale project that was highly visible, highly audible and totally out of character for the surrounding landscape was placed on the ridges surrounding their home. Suggested they imagine having a medical condition that would be exacerbated by the high, low and ULTRA-LOW (i.e. infrasound) frequency noises that were produced any time the turbine blades turned. Imagine that the home where they once felt safe and contented was no longer a sanctuary that provided that comfort and safety. Imagine their property values plummeting. Imagine being forced by necessity to sell their home – but not being able to sell it for enough money to allow them to start over…even though ‘starting over’ was the last thing they’d ever wanted to do.
For our efforts, we received sympathetic or commiserating smiles…but it was clear that our words didn’t matter. These people have a job to do. When it comes down to it, their job is to buy off who they can – hoping that will be enough to turn the tide in their favor – and throw the rest to the dogs. They don’t care what will be left in their wake. A natural, rural landscape changed to an industrial one. Property values diminished. Quality of life diminished. Community…diminished. When they have completed their task, they will return to Oregon; to Pennsylvania; to southern, urban Maine. Their paychecks will continue to get deposited into their accounts.
And their consciences? Well, I can’t say whether or not their consciences will be troubled but I could hazard a guess. Chances are that these individuals will move on to another rural community. One where the people have also lost their right to take part in questions of rezoning and of planning their communities’ futures.
And they will start all over again. I hope I’m wrong…but our experiences have proved otherwise.
The Open House was an eye-opener…but at the same time, it was exactly what we expected. A show. A shine. A farce designed to portray the illusion that Iberdrola cares.
We saw that they DO care…but not about us. Not about the people or the natural resources or the landscape of Maine. Iberdrola cares about winning. About money. About their bottom line.
Their shareholders’ profits (and their own paychecks) are far more important to them than the wants and needs of a couple hundred ‘rural’ Mainers.
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