A proposed 26-turbine wind farm near Moosehead Lake won’t be affected by a change in zoning regulations in the area that allow communities to opt out of a fast-track wind development zone, according to the company proposing the wind farm.
Energy company SunEdison, which filed for bankruptcy in April, is still determining the next steps for its proposed Somerset Wind project in the Misery Ridge area near Moosehead Lake, SunEdison spokesman John Lamontagne said Thursday.
On Tuesday, landowner Weyerhaeuser, a timber company that had agreed to lease land to SunEdison for the project, withdrew its opposition to the community opting out of the state’s expedited wind permitting area, where there are fewer regulations covering wind farms under the Maine Wind Energy Act.
An anti-wind energy group that has opposed the project said in a news release Wednesday that Weyerhaeuser’s decision is good news for the area, although a spokesman for the forest management company said it will not have an impact on the proposed wind farm.
“If Weyerhaeuser is pulling the plug on the Misery Ridge project, it’s a great day for the Moosehead region,” John Willard, president of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee, said in the news release. “The negative impact of this project on the region’s tourism-based economy and quality of place is obvious.”
Mark Doty, public affairs manager for Weyerhaeuser in the Northeast, said the decision to end its opposition to community opt-outs from the expedited zoning area is not related to the development of the Somerset Wind project.
No application for the proposed SunEdison project has been filed with the state Department of Environmental Protection, but the company has been testing wind conditions in the area since August 2015, when meteorological towers were installed in Johnson Mountain Township, Chase Stream Township, Misery Township and Misery Gore Township.
More than 20 communities in Maine have petitioned the state for exemptions from the expedited permitting areas. Weyerhaeuser, one of the world’s largest private owners of timberlands, according to its website, acquired Plum Creek and its Maine holdings earlier this year. It generally opposes the exemptions and filed several requests that the state undergo a review process before granting them.
Under the Maine Wind Energy Act, communities have the right to be automatically exempt from the expedited areas unless their request is challenged and the state finds reason to deny the exemption.
On Tuesday, Weyerhaeuser withdrew its request that the state review exemption applications from Sapling and Long Pond townships; Taunton-Raynham Academy Grant, part of the unorganized territory; and Misery Gore Township, Doty said.
“We re-evaluated and looked at the fact that we don’t currently have a partner for wind in the area, so we decided to hold off on requesting the review,” Doty said. “We consulted with SunEdison, and they told us these townships were not part of their current plan.”
Lamontagne did not respond to a question about which communities the proposed wind farm would be located in.
More than a dozen communities have successfully left the expedited wind permitting area since Jan. 1, when a new law went into effect allowing communities to opt out. Leaving the expedited area doesn’t mean that wind development can’t happen, but it allows for more public input in the process and adds regulations on developers.
Rep. Larry Dunphy, an unenrolled legislator from Embden who sponsored the law allowing communities to opt-out of the expedited areas, told the Morning Sentinel in February that the change wasn’t about stopping wind development, but about allowing residents in Maine’s unorganized territories to have a say in development in their area.
“So many people had been disenfranchised by (the Wind Energy Act),” Dunphy said. “They wanted their voices heard. That was my whole contention. The citizens wanted to be heard and wanted a right to a public hearing.”
SunEdison is already constructing the 56-turbine Bingham Wind Project, in Somerset County, which the company acquired when it took over Boston-based First Wind Holdings Inc. in November.
The DEP approved that project in March 2015, and construction began last summer.
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