WELD – A Maine environmental group mailed instructions in late December to 6,000 registered voters in Maine’s unorganized territory as part of an educational campaign to explain how to “opt out” of Maine’s Expedited Permitting Area for Wind Energy, also called the Expedited Area.
Funded and distributed by Friends of Maine’s Mountains, the mailer spelled out how residents of the state’s most remote townships and plantations can obtain a petition from the Maine Land Use Planning Commission. With very few signatures, petitions can remove all or part of these localities from the Expedited Area, which means that any future wind development would need to win zoning approval from LUPC before it applies for a permit.
Wind projects proposed in these areas are currently not required to do so. The unorganized territory comprises the majority of the state’s land mass, but it is home to just one percent of the population. The EA was created in a little-understood maneuver of the Maine Legislature, when it unanimously passed the Wind Energy Act in 2008. Lawmakers wanted to make it quicker and easier to build industrial wind turbines in rural Maine. The net result was that a tiny percentage of Maine people were stripped of land use rights and protections that citizens in the rest of the state enjoy. More than 50 Maine towns in other parts of the state have adopted protective wind energy ordinances since 2008, but residents of the unorganized territory lost the ability to do the same, the moment Governor John Baldacci signed the Wind Energy Act into law.
“As was revealed by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, the entire process was capricious and secretive,” said Chris O’Neil, a policy consultant to FMM. “The devious manner in which these folks were stripped of their rights was, at the time, grasped by very few.” (Additional video commentary by Chris O’Neil: https://youtu.be/yKbOKsz3Cvk)
O’Neil said opposition to wind projects has escalated significantly since the Wind Energy Act passed, but because the Act remains law, applications filed for projects in the Expedited Area are effectively rubber-stamped as they navigate the process to secure a permit. He said that by getting enough signatures on a petition, wind opponents in that part of the state will be able to regain their rights.
“The required number of valid signatures is low, just 10 percent of voter turnout total in the last gubernatorial election. So a township in which 20 people voted in 2014 would only need two signatures to secure an effective remedy and opt out,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil warned that there is one catch – there’s a very short window of time in which LUPC will accept petitions, from Jan. 1 through June 30. He said that at least 25 petitions were already circulating before Jan. 1.
Friends of Maine’s Mountains is a nonprofit organization that opposes the environmental and economic destruction from industrial wind energy. For more information, visit www.FriendsofMainesMountains.org.
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