CONTRIBUTORS

Give UT residents a say in wind energy development

This sign greets visitors to Highland Plantation on the main road into the unorganized territory.
This sign greets visitors to Highland Plantation on the main road into the unorganized territory. Buy Photo
Posted June 12, 2013, at 12:26 p.m.

On June 6, a bipartisan majority of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology gave its approval to an amended version of LD 616. The bill returns the right to have a say, in how or if wind development occurs, to communities in Maine’s more rural areas.

The bill would require the Land Use Planning Commission to create a process for communities to petition to be removed from what’s called the expedited permitting area — where the Legislature fast-tracked wind development in 2008. The area consists of all organized towns and about a third of the Unorganized Territories.

The bill wouldn’t prohibit wind development in the affected communities, but it would return to residents the opportunity to provide more meaningful input on wind development matters.

It’s a right taken for granted by most Mainers but taken away from residents in about a third of the state’s unorganized areas by the 2008 Maine Wind Energy Act. How it happened is no longer as important to us as correcting this misstep as soon as possible.

It was inspiring to see the bipartisan spirit come alive in the committee as legislators put their heads together to come up with something that would tackle this nagging issue.

The committee members dealt with several bills related to wind power policy and law reform this session. Most were rejected. But LD 616 got more attention, perhaps because it was really a fairness and rights bill, not a wind power bill.

Last month, a Bangor Daily News editorial said that it’s time for an “ update of Maine’s wind energy policy.”

That’s consistent with what we learned from impartial consultants hired by Maine taxpayers under the direction of the Legislature in 2011. In their report, these outside experts told the Legislature there “are many reasonable adjustments” that could be made to Maine’s Wind Energy Act.

Returning a wrongly denied right seems like a “reasonable adjustment.” We can support people’s rights and have renewable energy development in Maine. That was a sentiment expressed to me by one of the representatives supporting the measure. It’s pretty simple wisdom.

In another editorial last year, the Bangor Daily News said that wind development should take place “ in areas that make sense to all involved,” including the people who live there. That’s not necessarily how it works in Maine’s unorganized areas, though. Those of us who live in the expedited portion of the Unorganized Territory no longer have a say in wind development matters where we live.

According to critics of the bill, that’s just the price that has to be paid to accommodate “wind generation interests” and ensure that developers’ investors “are well taken care of.”

Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the view of the majority of the members of the committee. They’ve taken a fairer and more optimistic view of what’s possible. Among that majority are hearty supporters of wind energy and critics alike. However, each of them appears to believe that people’s rights are not disposable commodities in the pursuit of clean energy.

The residents of my rural community asked the Legislature for a simple change that would restore to us a basic right of participation that more than 99 percent of Mainers never lost.

Thanks to some forward-looking legislators, Democrats and Republicans, the full bodies of the House and Senate now have the opportunity to resolve this half-decade-old dilemma. They should follow the optimistic lead of the committee majority. They should support the LD 616 majority report and restore to these rural Mainers the opportunity to enjoy the same rights that they do.

Alan Michka lives in Lexington Township in Somerset County.

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