SKOWHEGAN – Somerset County commissioners on Wednesday issued a resolution strongly opposing additional wind turbines in the county, as officials make ready for a CMP public meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday in Bingham on its plans for a wide power transmission corridor through and across tourist destinations.
“Please be advised that the purpose of this letter is to express the Somerset County Commissioners’ opposition to additional industrial scale wind development and its associated facilities in Somerset County or the Moosehead Lake region,” commissioners said in a letter to be sent to state and federal officials.
The letter and accompanying resolution – both supported 5-0 – cite the dangers of 500-plus-foot wind turbines and the associated transmission lines they say will forever spoil the “world class beauty” of the region.
Commissioners were careful to note the fact that proposals of new wind tower projects west of Moosehead Lake would add to the “adverse impact” on the night sky already seen with the 63 wind turbines now working in the Bingham area.
The board also noted the potential impact on ridgeline aquifers from “blasting to create 60 foot craters” for wind turbine ground pads, the permanent disruption to wildlife habitat and the devastation to the regional tourist economy.
Together, the proposed wind projects would include more than 230 turbines, miles of access roads through pristine wilderness, utility substations and transmission corridors.
Following each of the two votes Wednesday, those in attendance – some with anti-wind signs – applauded loudly. Commissioners pointed out that the letter and the resolution were not binding and that the final decisions will have to come from Augusta.
“You can see what big money is trying to do,” said Ronald Elkin, of Orrington, whose family owns property on Big Indian Pond near the impact area. “This money is all from outside the state of Maine and 75-80 percent of the power – if produced – will leave the state of Maine. Moosehead Lake is considered the crown jewel of wilderness camping in Maine.”
Elkin said he applauds the county commissioners for their stance against the proposed projects and implored the Maine Legislature to “get their act together to do away with the wind industry” in Maine.
“They should change the whole damn law – they just want to ruin what we have in the state of Maine,” he said.
Two members of the Maine Legislature were present for Wednesday’s meeting. They also weighed in with support for the commissioners’ resolution.
State Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, said he supports the county commissioners’ position against the proposed new projects.
State Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, who sits on the committee that oversees the state Department of Tourism, presented the board with the results of a 2015 regional tourism impact study, noting that the Somerset County side of Moosehead Lake generated $267 million in tourist dollars that year, while the east side of the region enjoyed about $712 million in year-round sales.
Richard McDonald, president of the anti-wind citizen group Saving Maine, and a member of the steering committee Moosehead Region Futures, told commissioners that decisions made in Massachusetts are the driving force of the proposed wind projects in Maine.
“If this goes forward, we’re going to have upwards of 3,000 turbines in the state of Maine,” McDonald said. “It’s massive. There is going to be resistance to these projects.”
McDonald said at an anti-wind meeting last month in Rockwood, in Somerset County, that while permits for new wind projects have yet to be filed, the prospect of 500-foot tall turbines along ridges in the remote townships of Johnson Mountain, Chase Stream and Misery is not welcome.
He said the Somerset Wind project has been proposed by NRG, a large renewable energy and power producer with offices in Texas and New Jersey. There also is what is being called the EverPower Project, along the Big Moose Mountain ridge line near Big Indian Pond, he said. Each would have 26 or 28 wind turbines.
He said a company called NextEra also has proposed two or three large industrial wind projects in the Eustis area of Franklin County.
The driving force, he said, is to win the bid for a 20-year power purchase agreement with Massachusetts utilities for more than 100 wind turbines. The projects were among the 24 bids received by New England Clean Energy, part of a group of agencies and electric utilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island that issued a request for proposals for energy projects last November to help them meet their clean-energy goals and fight climate change.
He said if the Massachusetts project does not include Somerset County, then the next round from Connecticut would follow.
Another important part of the plan, McDonald said, would be a 145-mile transmission line by Central Maine Power Co. to get the power to Massachusetts from west of Eustis to Johnson Mountain, The Forks, West Forks – right over the Dead River – then down to Moscow, Pittsfield and finally to southern Maine. He said it would be 1,400 feet wide.
John Carroll, a spokesman for Central Maine Power Co., said Thursday’s public information meeting in Bingham is one of three such mandated meetings to explain what the project is all about and what the permitting process is.
“This is essentially an open house and anyone who is interested is invited to come and just learn more about the characteristics of the project, the purpose of it, the citing and permitting process,” Carroll said.
He said the company plans to file plans for the project later this month or in early October.