HIGHLAND PLANTATION, Maine — There is nothing man-made as far as the eye can see from Patrice and Gregory Drummond’s front porch, and that’s the way they like it.
Miles of mountain ridge lines were what attracted the Drummonds to their home aside a dirt road in the Unorganized Territory community of Highland Plantation, which has a population of around 50 people. Those uninterrupted vistas are also a key component of the Drummonds’ livelihood: a hunting, hiking, skiing and fishing retreat they call Claybrook Mountain Lodge.
But the Drummonds say their paradise will be lost if plans for a large-scale wind turbine farm move forward.
“Now it’s just sad to look out there every morning,” said Patrice Drummond after a press conference Tuesday during which she and others lambasted the proposal by Highland Wind LLC to build approximately 39 wind turbines. “I just can’t stop thinking of what those towers will look like.”
Highland Wind, which is headed by former Gov. Angus King and Rob Gardiner, a former Maine Public Broadcasting Corp. executive, withdrew its Land Use Regulation Commission application for the wind farm earlier this month. That was after protests from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which in written comments to LURC expressed fear that the project would harm wildlife in the area, including the rare northern bog lemming and Roaring Brook mayfly. King told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday that the application will be renewed at some point, though he had no timeline for when that might be.
“The comments from the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department raised some issues that we were not familiar with and not prepared for,” said King. “It’s going to take some time to work those issues out and make sure we’d not do damage to wildlife.”
From the perspective of some Highland and Pleasant Ridge Plantation residents, there is no way that the project won’t adversely affect wildlife and ruin the natural environment they call home. The group has been fighting against the proposal since it was first aired by testifying during LURC hearings, writing letters to legislators, forming a group called Friends of Highland Mountains and raising more than $12,000 to hire experts who will speak against the application when it is heard by LURC.
Most recently, the group gathered 21 signatures on a petition from local residents who oppose the project. Though 21 seems like a small number, it represents all but three of the registered voters in Highland Plantation, according to Rose Staton, who helped gather the signatures, which will be presented to LURC staff in the coming days.
Susan Davis, the executive director for Friends of Maine’s Mountains, a group that opposes the Highland Plantation proposal among others, said she believes her group and others are starting to find an audience of people who were initially in favor of wind power but are now beginning to understand the visual and environmental impact that such a development can have.
Staton said the project’s visual impact would be devastating to the area.
“All Mainers are at risk of losing one of our most precious natural resources and the tourism dollars that they generate,” she said. “All Mainers are at risk of losing wild places to rejuvenate the soul and mind.”
But King, who has long been a proponent of wind power, said that his project conforms to Maine law when it comes to visual impacts and that the residents of Highland Plantation — along with every other Mainer — share the responsibility of hosting the nation’s energy infrastructure.
“You can’t analyze a project like this in isolation,” said King. “The power that we use — whether it’s electricity or heat or transportation — has to come from somewhere. When you compare wind to the hydrofracking of gas, drilling for oil or the obvious risks of nuclear power, wind looks pretty good. To me it’s the most environmentally benign source of energy, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.”
To Carla Dillon-Jones, one of the speakers at Tuesday’s press conference, it’s far from perfect. Dillon-Jones returned to Highland Plantation and the land where she was born last year after 10 years of living in Florida.
“What’s going to happen to the value of this property if there are 400-foot wind towers on top of Bald, Burnt and Briggs mountains? My little acre will be surrounded by these monstrous towers with their whirring blades, flickering shadow from the eastern sun behind my home. Please, put these wind towers in a more suitable place.”
Asked for a response to pleas like that, King again brought up the alternatives.
“I’m sure most of these people flip on their electric switch every day,” he said. “Simply saying no is not an option. If you don’t like wind, which box do you want us to check: coal, oil or nuclear power?”