Wind power ‘no-impact’ standard at odds with law

By Pete Vigue, Special to the BDN
Posted July 15, 2010, at 6:50 p.m.

Few people dispute the importance of wind power in Maine’s transition to cleaner energy. The question is where wind projects should be located and what impacts are acceptable in return for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. The Legislature addressed this issue with passage of the Maine Wind Energy Act. It established a goal of achieving 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2015 and designated specific “expedited zones” where wind energy is an allowed use without rezoning.

TransCanada’s application for the Kibby Expansion Project was among the first to be considered by LURC under the new law in the zones designated as appropriate for wind power development. This is significant because the criteria for reviewing wind projects in the expedited zones are intended to move wind development forward efficiently while minimizing the impact on Maine’s environment — a standard this project clearly achieves.

The state’s wind power goals can only be achieved if good sites like the Kibby expansion area are responsibly developed. But instead of following the guidelines of the Wind Energy Act, LURC seems to be moving away from permitting any mountain wind projects and applying a no-impact standard that is at odds with Maine law.

Many residents listening to LURC’s deliberations last week are concerned to hear the commission treat the application as though it were a rezoning, rather than a proposed project that was already in the appropriate zone. The commissioners acknowledged that TransCanada had followed the rules, but then questioned how the commission could approve a project with even minimal impacts. Apparently, the commissioners have not been briefed on the new standards the Wind Energy Act requires the commission to apply to projects in the expedited zones. It is LURC’s responsibility to evaluate this project based on the standards of the law, not based on personal beliefs.

At the LURC hearing this spring, commissioners heard overwhelming local support for TransCanada’s proposed expansion of the project, including support from residents who have been living in the vicinity of the original Kibby project for two years. Those residents who are most affected by the project are satisfied with the outcomes. Recent polling confirms that over 80 percent of Mainers support wind energy development. The commission has also heard from independent experts — leaders in their field — testifying to the manageable impacts on natural resources.

But last week, expert testimony was not even discussed during the LURC proceedings, while the personal views of the commissioners showed up in the discussions time and again. A more balanced review of the application is required by law.

The deliberations last week departed from the facts of the case in numerous and troubling ways. This unpredictable regulatory environment will discourage investment in Maine. No applicant deserves special treatment, but every applicant deserves to be evaluated by rules that are fairly and consistently applied.

Maine cannot afford to lose the best wind energy sites or to throw away hundreds of millions of dollars of investments that would benefit Maine’s people, workers and businesses. Wind power strengthens our clean energy future in Maine. The Legislature and governor have heard and acted upon the supportive voice of their constituents who want progress in the field of wind energy. Please recognize:

• The local residents in the area of the project support the project.

• The people of Maine support the development of wind power.

• The requirements of the Maine Wind Energy Act have been met by the applicant.

Based on all the facts, it’s clear that the Kibby Mountain Expansion Project should be approved.

Pete Vigue of Pittsfield is chairman and CEO of the Cianbro Corp.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/07/15/opinion/wind-power-lsquonoimpactrsquo-standard-at-odds-with-law/ printed on April 23, 2014