Dozens of sparsely populated areas across Maine have won special protections that could pose a hurdle to companies looking to build wind power turbines in some of the state’s windiest areas.
The designations come years after Maine under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci set an ambitious target of 3,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2030. That’s enough to power perhaps 675,000 homes each year if produced by wind turbines on land. To reach that target and promote job creation, lawmakers accelerated the permitting process for wind projects statewide.
Maine has about 400 townships in its Unorganized Territory that have no governing bodies and are home to about 9,000 residents. Critics have said that because local governments can restrict wind turbines, residents and landowners in the Unorganized Territory are left voiceless in halting them.
About 40 of those communities took advantage of a one-time offer this year to seek permission to force companies to explain why wind turbines should be allowed at a specific site. So far, 27 communities have won permission while 13 more will get the OK once the state files the paperwork. Wind companies that want to build in those communities would now have to go through a rezoning process – which can include a public hearing – on top of the state’s yearslong permitting process.
A state commission plans to decide the last petition, by Carroll Plantation, in February.
Milton Township is the only community where such efforts failed after opposition from a Milton landowner and EverPower Wind Holdings, which wants to build a 40-megawatt wind project on the windy Bryant Mountain.
Violetta Wierzbicki, a Milton Township resident who led petition efforts, said the project could jeopardize tourism, property values and a bat colony about three miles from potential site of the project.
Wierzbicki told the state this summer that “removing Milton from (the) expedited area does not eliminate wind power development in the future but rather it ensures that the process will include the voice of local residents who may have to live among the turbines.”
EverPower argued this fall that Maine should honor private property rights in “an area of sparse economic opportunity.” It estimated a wind power project would bring at least $320,000 in annual taxes.
“Milton Township is precisely the type of location where wind energy development within the unorganized jurisdiction should occur,” the company wrote, noting the township is surrounded by organized towns like Woodstock, which has a wind power project.
A state commission this month decided Milton Township is suitable for wind energy development despite some impacts to the community and surrounding area. In the Dec. 17 decision, the commission’s executive director said making wind companies go through a rezoning and permitting process “would be a significant hurdle that would greatly discourage” and could prohibit wind energy development.
The commission’s decision can be appealed within 40 days.
EverPower applauded the decision and says it will continue meeting with residents and landowners to discuss their concerns and the project’s benefits.