Appeals board delays likely rejection of $100M Bowers Mountain wind project

First Wind attorney Juliet Browne argues for her client at a Board of Environmental Protection appeal hearing in Augusta on Thursday.
First Wind attorney Juliet Browne argues for her client at a Board of Environmental Protection appeal hearing in Augusta on Thursday. Buy Photo
Posted May 01, 2014, at 4:43 p.m.
Last modified May 01, 2014, at 5:49 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — An appeals board delayed issuing a formal decision Thursday that could decide the fate of a $100 million wind-to-energy facility proposed for Bowers Mountain. However, it said a denial of the project is likely to be upheld.

The Board of Environmental Protection voted 4-1 during a daylong meeting at the Augusta Civic Center to have staff correct spelling errors and slightly elaborate a staff recommendation reaffirming a Maine Department of Environmental Protection denial of the 16-turbine project. Board members agreed to vote on the revised recommendation at the next meeting on June 5.

Because the wording changes were slight, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho said it was probable that the project would be denied then. Project opponents expressed gratitude at the likelihood, while a First Wind spokesman said the company would strongly consider appealing to state’s top civil court if Aho’s prediction comes true.

Aho said Thursday that board members “really need the precise, actual language of the denial in front of them” before they vote “considering that there is a high likelihood of an appeal.”

Under the state’s Wind Energy Act, an appeal would be filed with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Neil Kiely, a First Wind project director working for First Wind subsidiary Champlain Wind, which is proposing the project, said he was “disappointed that we aren’t going to bring this large investment to a host community that supported it.

“It sounds like they are going to deny the project,” Kiely added.

First Wind filed the appeal in September 2013.

The hearing drew about 150 people to the Civic Center meeting room. Most of the day was spent with both sides arguing visual impact standards within state law. Board Chairman Robert Foley of Wells startled project opponents when he suggested, after more than six hours of discussion, that Department of Environmental Protection staff work out a compromise plan with First Wind.

He said that staff should “evaluate the interest each one [side] has expressed and come back with something that is” acceptable to all. “Maybe everyone can come away not with everything, but with something they think is important,” Foley said.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing $100 million invested in the state of Maine,” board member Jim Parker agreed. “Again, I think there may be some opportunity where this project could move forward if it was dealt with appropriately.”

But a 10-minute recess in which both sides discussed the issues seemed to produce no agreement. The 4-1 vote followed. Alvin Ahlers of North Yarmouth cast the opposing vote. Afterwards, Kiely said state law lacked a legal mechanism by which the project could be revised at this late date.

First Wind has tried to put wind turbines atop the 90-mile string of mountains between Carroll Plantation in Penobscot County and Kossuth Township in Washington County since September 2011, when the company sited test towers there. The former Land Use Regulation Commission rejected a proposed 27-tower version of the project in April 2012. The revised 16-turbine plan was submitted to DEP a year later.

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