Polls show wide support for wind power as a source of pollution-free, homegrown energy. That support is well founded. Though the urgency to add more wind power to the domestic energy portfolio has eased as oil prices have dropped, people generally understand that the state’s and the nation’s energy future is, indeed, blowing in the wind.
But while wind power is generally supported when the towers and turbines are located on some remote ridge top, that support is less enthusiastic when those towers are visible from one’s living room window and when the incessant whooshing of the turbine blades can be heard in one’s backyard.
Wind power proposals in some small towns have encountered strong local opposition. Local residents often have a lot of questions about how the project will impact the peaceful enjoyment of their homes, and understandably work to delay approval, at least until they are assured that town ordinances address those concerns.
But with each subsequent proposal, the struggle for approval gets more difficult. Local permitting could become a very subjective process, depending more on the resources and vociferousness of opponents than on the real threats posed by the project. While no one should suffer health effects or even the nuisance of an omnipresent noise, some wind power projects may languish because of misinformation and irrational fear.
Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, has proposed LD 199, An Act To Facilitate Wind Power Siting. Its goal is to move permitting for wind power projects of 100 kilowatts or more from the local level to the state. Under LD 199, the Department of Environmental Protection or the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission would take on that responsibility, depending on the location of a wind power proposal.
LD 199 would go so far as to ban any other state agency or local government from requiring permits for wind power projects. Rep. Cebra says he does not want to disenfranchise locals in the process, and so a wind power siting authority would be required to hold a public hearing on any application. The proposed law would require a decision within 210 days from acceptance of a complete application.
The intent, Rep. Cebra said, is to “try and standardize the process of siting large scale wind power so that investors will come to Maine and invest in these multimillion dollar projects.”
Electricity may emerge as one of Maine’s most important commodities. Seeing wind power projects embraced by the public with the same urgency with which hybrid cars were embraced when gasoline was $4 per gallon is a key to that future. Similarly, it would be heartening to see the federal government move boldly to site wind power projects in the Oklahoma to North Dakota corridor.
“The public deserves a standard process that protects the people of Maine from small ‘not in my backyard’ groups from [having] undue control of the process,” Rep. Cebra said.
As long as local input is valued in the approval process, the state can, in theory, better manage Maine’s energy future rather than have it become a patchwork quilt of approvals and denials.