AUGUSTA, Maine — Newspaper readers around the state on Thursday may have noticed several large advertisements, warning them of the perils and pitfalls of wind towers in Maine.
The group that bought the advertisements, Saving Maine, directs readers to its website to learn more. From there, the message is clear: Wind power doesn’t deliver the economic or energy promises. It’s bad for animals and the environment. The state, and its residents, have been duped.
The arguments are familiar to those who have followed the wind energy debate in Maine for years. The issue heated up in 2008, when the state passed a Wind Energy Act that allowed for an expedited permitting process in large swaths of the state, including much of its Unorganized Territory.
The debate has raged ever since, picking up steam with each new wind tower proposal heard by regulators in Augusta.
What readers of the Saving Maine website won’t find is much information about who comprises the group. The “contact” page features an email submission form, but no names, phone numbers, email addresses or even physical addresses. Those interested in donating to the group can send a check to a Kennebunk post office box.
The Bar Harbor address listed on the print advertisements belongs to Lynne Williams, a lawyer and former state Green Independent Party leader.
A review of documents filed with Maine’s secretary of state reveals that the group was incorporated as a nonprofit in April, with Williams as its registrar. Its incorporators include Michael and Margaret Bond of Winthrop and Richard McDonald of Kennebunk.
McDonald and Michael Bond are both former board members of Friends of Maine’s Mountains, the most widely known anti-wind energy development group in the state.
Along with Paula Moore, they were removed from the board of FMM back in January.
According to the Sun Journal, their removal, and questions raised about potential financial conflicts of interest by the remaining board members, Chris O’Neil and Rand Stowell, prompted an attorney general’s investigation.
The investigation and related files have since been sealed and the Office of the Attorney General will not respond to comment, according to a spokesman for that office.
McDonald said Thursday that with Saving Maine, he and the Bonds hope to create a vital environmental group to push back against the pro-wind power narrative he said has dominated Maine media and policymaking.
“There’s really been no statewide organization that’s been in a position to step up and start educating and representing an alternative point of view to the wind industry and some of our political leaders,” he said. “Our purpose is to try to lend a balance to the dialogue about whether or not industrial wind is really beneficial to Maine. It’s our contention that it’s not.”
Chris O’Neil, a board member of Friends of Maine’s Mountains, said he and FMM wish Saving Maine well.
“They’re going to be singing the same tune [as us], just in a different key,” he said Thursday. “We welcome that. We want a big chorus.”
O’Neil said McDonald and Bond — as well as Moore, who is not involved in Saving Maine — were removed from the board of FMM because of a “major disagreement about the direction of the organization.”
“We wished them well, and said they should go their own way,” O’Neil said.
That disagreement appeared to stem from board debate about whether to accept a settlement in a then-pending legal battle with Patriot Renewables, the group seeking to build a wind farm on Saddleback Ridge in Carthage.
According to Attorney General documents, Stowell and O’Neill wanted to accept the settlement, while Bond, McDonald and Moore did not.
The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed, and the three dissenting board members were later removed from their posts.
Despite the apparently acrimonious split, McDonald, like O’Neil, downplayed any rift between the two organizations.
“FMM has their own agenda, we have our own plans,” he said. “We’re trying to be more balanced, more inclusive, bring more people on board.”
While the group has started its “education campaign” with information on wind, he said it also plans on promoting its message against a proposed east-west private highway and the transportation of tar sands oil through Maine, and to advocate for environmentally-friendly mining regulation.
“We’re really trying to work across the board, for people who are concerned about Maine’s environment,” he said.
Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, said he was perplexed by the timing of Saving Maine’s anti-wind power campaign. There aren’t currently any proposed wind farms open for public comment, or any upcoming hearings where advocates could seek to influence regulators, he said.
“Maybe they’re trying to squeeze in an ad before everyone puts down their newspapers and TVs and goes to sit by the lakes and grills for the summer,” he said. “It’s a very odd sort of attack ad.”
McDonald said the group plans to buy more advertising space in more newspapers in the coming weeks. He said the group has been funded by a handful of seed investors, but declined to name them.
Saving Maine is currently accepting donations, and McDonald said he expects small donors to contribute the bulk of the group’s revenue.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.