AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers heard hours of often emotional testimony Thursday on bills that highlight growing tensions over the use of Maine’s abundant wind and water resources.
Much of the debate focused on the roles municipalities and local residents play when wind-energy companies and water bottlers come to town.
Dozens of people turned out to oppose a controversial and short-lived proposal that aimed to speed up development of industrial-scale wind power by limiting municipalities’ ability to control where massive turbines are located.
LD 199 would preclude local ordinances in many areas of Maine and give state regulators authority over siting and design of large wind farms. Committee members quickly rejected the bill, however, in a unanimous “ought not to pass” vote.
Underscoring the passions behind the issue, sponsor Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, said he has received more hostile and threatening responses on this bill than any other measure.
“I think there is a place for exchange of opinions,” Cebra told members of the Natural Resources Committee. “I don’t think I need to be threatened and I don’t think I need to be spoken to as an imbecile.”
While Thursday’s dialogue was civil, Cebra had few sympathizers in his quest to speed up the regulatory review process by essentially eliminating local control. Opponents called the bill undemocratic, a power grab for the wind industry and potentially unconstitutional.
“It doesn’t matter what side of the issue you are on, this bill is bad public policy and just plain offensive,” said Jackson resident David McDaniel.
Located in Waldo County, Jackson is one of several communities where residents have passed moratoriums on large-scale wind power facilities after project developers expressed interest in the area. A town subcommittee now is developing local ordinances to govern placement of the turbines, which often stand nearly 400 feet tall from base to blade tip.
Wind power, in general, appears to have overwhelming support among Mainers, according to polls. The Baldacci administration also touts the technology as a key component in the state’s quest for greater energy independence and to reduce emissions tied to global warming.
Maine is home to two large wind-energy facilities — a 28-turbine wind farm in Mars Hill and a 38-turbine wind farm on Stetson Mountain in northern Washington County. Numerous others are in various stages of development.
But critics contend that in their rush to capitalize on the thirst for green energy, state officials are ignoring the potential impacts that industrial wind turbines can have on neighbors.
Those impacts include loss of enjoyment of their homes, sleep deprivation from noise caused by the spinning blades, lower property values and even sickness caused by low-frequency noise or vibrations. Critics also contend the turbines ruin scenery important to tourism and can harm wildlife.
Steve Bennett, who lives approximately 3,000 feet from the wind turbines recently built in Freedom, said many people in his town did not realize how large and audible the turbines would be. Bennett said he can hear the turbines regularly inside his home. In the morning, he said, sun flicker lights up rooms in his house like a strobe light.
“One of our selectmen told me, ‘Steve, you won’t even see them much less hear them,’” Bennett said. “Well, you should come to my house.”
Numerous speakers Thursday said rural Maine communities who are host to wind farms suffer all of the negatives associated with turbines and receive none of the benefits because the energy flows into the New England grid.
Carolyn Dodge, a Dixmont resident whose off-the-grid house uses a small wind turbine, also expressed frustrations that those expressing valid concerns often are dismissed as NIMBYs. Those people just want to make sure projects are sited appropriately, she said.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection — one of two state agencies involved in permitting industrial wind farms — and the Natural Resources Council of Maine opposed the bill. A task force that recommended changes to Maine’s regulatory process for wind farms also is developing a model ordinance for communities.
The Natural Resources Committee also heard testimony on two bills that seek to strengthen local control when it comes to regulating groundwater extraction. Both measures would essentially clarify that municipalities have the right to pass local ordinances governing groundwater extraction.
The bills were filed in response to several high-profile controversies involving Poland Spring’s attempts to secure additional wells.
But opponents argued that municipalities already could adopt their own ordinances on water extraction, although a DEP representative said the Legislature may want to clarify the issue.
The committee did not act on the groundwater bills.