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Mills signs executive order reversing LePage moratorium on wind energy permits

AUGUSTA – Gov. Janet Mills has signed an executive order effectively ending a moratorium on wind turbine permits issued by her predecessor, Gov. Paul LePage.

The order by Mills, a Democrat, clarifies that state agencies with the legal authority to issue permits can again work with Maine’s local communities and stakeholders to determine which projects should go forward. While LePage’s executive order did not appear to have any practical effect on projects, Mills said her new order was meant to send a message.

“It is time for Maine to send a positive signal to renewable energy investors and innovators – ‘We welcome you,’” Mills said in a statement.

LePage, a Republican and longtime critic of wind energy, issued an executive order in January 2018 prohibiting state agencies from issuing permits “related to wind turbines” in western and coastal Maine, on coastal islands and along “significant avian migratory pathways.” LePage also set up a secretive committee on wind energy that eventually dissolved after issuing a report essentially saying the topic needed more study.

At the time, LePage said the moratorium and commission were necessary to “protect our natural beauty” and Maine’s tourism industry from out-of-state wind energy developers. But wind energy advocates regarded the order as just another swipe at the industry by a governor they viewed as anti-renewable energy.

The Conservation Law Foundation and the Maine Renewable Energy Association challenged LePage’s executive order in court, arguing the moratorium was an unconstitutional overreach that would harm projects and the industry. But officials at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection – the primary state agency responsible for issuing permits to wind energy projects – acknowledged in court filings that they planned to ignore the order and would continue processing any applications consistent with state law.

A Maine Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuits last July, but left the door open for the groups to file later grievances if they could prove that a wind power project was harmed by LePage’s executive order.

Dylan Voorhees, the climate and clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, an environmental advocacy group, said Mills’ action would “reverse the barriers” set up by LePage. Voorhees said action on solar energy reforms, rejected by LePage, also was in the works in the Legislature.

“Passage of the bill to repeal the anti-solar gross metering tax, which was just voted out of legislative committee this week, would be another positive step forward in regaining our energy independence by moving forward with home-grown clean energy projects,” Voorhees said in a statement.

Mills has vowed to act to bolster Maine’s renewable energy sector, including by beginning the process of installing solar panels on the grounds of Maine’s historic governor’s mansion, the Blaine House.

“This Executive Order will allow our state to conduct a transparent vetting of all wind projects, onshore and offshore, to ensure they respect Maine communities and our environment while helping to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Mills said in her statement. “Today, we take another step towards embracing a clean energy future for Maine.”

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.