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Maine House, protecting sand dunes, rejects plan to build offshore wind terminal on Sears Island 

Credit:  April 9 | Stephen Singer | Press Herald | pressherald.com ~~

The Maine House of Representatives voted Tuesday to protect sand dunes on Sears Island where the Mills administration has proposed to build an offshore wind terminal.

In an 80-65 vote, the House rejected legislation that would have authorized the Department of Environmental Protection to grant a permit to build the terminal on an area of Sears Island that includes a coastal sand dune system.

If the legislation fails, it is unclear how severely the decision would delay the buildout of a wind port in Maine, where turbines and other components would be assembled and then shipped to the Gulf of Maine. The project involves lengthy state and federal permitting processes after a site is selected.

The legislation, which is narrowly crafted to reference the sand dunes, would allow the DEP to act only after all laws and agency rules also permit construction.

The sand dune area is about four-tenths of an acre, according to the bill, which now heads to the Senate.

Gov. Janet Mills announced in February her selection of Sears Island for Maine’s foray into wind power. She said it was not an easy decision, and it was opposed by environmentalists who favored nearby Mack Point.

Criticism quickly focused on the potential threat that construction would pose to the sand dunes. Maine Audubon says sand dunes and coastal beaches protect buildings and infrastructure from waves and flooding and provide habitat for migratory shore birds, and endangered and threatened species.

Ben Goodman, a spokesman for Mills, said the legislation affects a “small, manmade – not naturally occurring – sand dune system” on state Department of Transportation land on Sears Island that was created by the placement of a jetty.

Without the legislation or “commensurate language elsewhere,” Maine would lose a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to create hundreds of well-paid jobs, generate clean energy and protect the environment against climate change and the health of Mainers, he said.

DUELING ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS

Several lawmakers said during the House debate that they were conflicted between voting to allow construction that could undermine the island’s environment and advancing Maine’s wind energy industry, which is essential to helping cut carbon-based energy.

Environmentalists say wind from the Gulf of Maine is among the strongest and most consistent available, and offshore wind is expected to generate about half the renewable energy needed by Maine by the end of the next decade.

Jack Shapiro, climate and clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said taking Sears Island out of the running for Maine’s wind port would be unfortunate and short-sighted. The necessary permits require the applicant to demonstrate that they have evaluated all of the alternatives.

“We think the stakes are too high for offshore wind and too high for the climate to do that without all the evidence in hand,” he said.

He could not speak directly to the timeline, but said if the bill fails it will likely cause “significant delays” in what already is expected to be a multiyear process.

He’s hopeful that it won’t get to that point.

“We’re hopeful that we can move forward with both sites under consideration because we want to pick the best site for Maine that gives us the best chance to develop this resource and meet our climate goals in a timely manner,” Shapiro said, referring to Mack Point as the other site.

SAND DUNE DILEMMA

Rep. Valli Geiger, D-Rockland, who described herself as an environmentalist, said she finds it difficult to “roll back our sand dune regulations because it’s in the way of development.”

Yet Geiger said the wind port is a rare opportunity to contribute to the fight against climate change and create well-paid manufacturing jobs.

“Ultimately, for me it’s the larger overarching issue of climate change that has led me to ‘yes,’ ” she said.

Rep. Mike Soboleski, R-Phillips, said “it’s hard to reconcile destroying part of the environment to save the environment” and questioned whether wind power will accomplish what advocates claim.

“I think we should hold off on this, see if they’re actually viable, if they do work, if they do make a difference, if they can help our environment, if they can save on electrical bills, which so far we haven’t seen that at all,” he said.

The 100-acre site on Sears Island was one of several considered in a more than two-year review by Maine officials. Portland, Eastport and Mack Point – which is also in Searsport – also were considered. State environmental officials said the Sears Island site would not require dredging, unlike at Mack Point.

The Sears Island site is on one-third of the island that the state Department of Transportation has reserved for development. The other two-thirds are in a permanent conservation easement held by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.

The legislation establishes within DEP a $1 million Coastal Sand Dune Restoration and Protection Fund that the agency can use to pay up to 50% of eligible costs incurred in a project to restore, protect, conserve or “revegetate” a coastal sand dune system and up to 100% of eligible costs for projects relating to coastal sand dune systems.

Staff Writer Hannah LaClaire contributed to this report.

Source:  April 9 | Stephen Singer | Press Herald | pressherald.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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