Say you want to build an industrial wind farm in Maine. It will be in a rural area with a high elevation — likely on mountaintops or ridges. The area is sparsely settled, but to show goodwill to the community you might offer its homes discounted electricity. You will be doing New England a favor by sending electricity onto regional grid lines.
It sounds like something people would support.
In fact, the last few years of proposed wind energy development have shown it may be easier to ski through a revolving door than to persuade residents to support the construction of wind turbines that they’ll see and maybe hear from their front porch. Their concerns about flicker effect, the impact on wildlife- and woods-related jobs and the alteration of their scenic surroundings are valid.
That’s why development must be responsible. It’s also why developers should pay attention to a potential project in the Somerset County town of Moscow. Though it’s still early, the project would keep electricity local in order to draw a business. As likely the first project of its kind in Maine, it could provide residents with something of worth to them: long-term jobs.
Wind power proposals across the state have drawn concern from locals. At a recent public meeting about a 14-turbine industrial wind farm proposed for the top of Passadumkeag Mountain in Penobscot County, residents expressed worry about the impact on views, wildlife, property values and people’s well being.
Back in Somerset County, a majority of residents in Highland Plantation, as well as in neighboring Concord and Lexington townships, have signed petitions opposing wind power development in their area.
Addressing development on the Penobscot-Washington county line, the Land Use Regulation Commission voted April 19 to reject First Wind’s plan to build turbines on Bowers Mountain. Commissioners said they believed the project would negatively affect tourism and nature-based industries employing hundreds of people.
The potential Moscow project will have to adhere to the same rules as any other wind project, but it may gather more local support. Pittsfield construction company Cianbro Corp. has announced that it — along with two other companies — is considering converting a U.S. Air Force radar station into a facility that produces electricity for a business.
Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue said he and the other purchasing companies — Massachusetts-based Conroy Development Corp. and Jay Cashman Inc. — will evaluate which renewable energy source is most viable for the site, but among the first to be considered will be wind power. The large buildings on the 1,300 acres they bought at auction could support a light manufacturing industry.
Vigue has been monitoring the location for more than four years, he said. It already has roads, three large buildings, a transmission line, substation and good security. The site is on a plateau but has limited visibility from a 360-degree view. The closest structure to one corner of the property is a seasonal camp more than one mile away.
The location is key, as is a promise: At Moscow’s town meeting a year ago, Vigue said that if residents don’t want the development, he won’t do it. Residents listened and then overwhelmingly voted to reject a proposed moratorium on any wind development, which would have allowed time to possibly tighten the town’s wind rules.
Pairing energy with a business “really could create a model that I believe could benefit not just that region but other parts of Maine,” Vigue said. “We think this could surprise some folks and get their attention and also give others the indication that you have to think outside the box.”
Wind power is an important part of Maine’s plan to steer away from coal and oil dependence. And the state is doing comparatively well: It generates a larger share of its electricity from solar, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas and wind than any other state.
But wind is only part of the picture. Turbines should be placed in areas that make sense to all involved: people paying for them and people living with them.