PORTLAND, Maine — The developer of the 16-turbine Bowers Mountain wind power project near eight lakes with special scenic designation argued Wednesday to Maine’s highest court that regulators erred in considering the project’s collective effect on the lakes.
Juliet Brown, the attorney for SunEdison-owned Champlain Wind, argued Wednesday before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the citizen-run Board of Environmental Protection should have approved the project.
The Department of Environmental Protection opposed the project in an order finding that the project would have a widespread negative scenic effect on 14 nearby lakes, eight of which are designated as scenic resources of state or national significance.
The dispute before the court centered on language in the 2003 Maine Wind Energy Act, which states regulators can require changes to a project “based on whether the development significantly compromises views from a scenic resource of state or national significance such that the development has an unreasonable adverse effect on the scenic character or existing uses related to the scenic character of that resource.”
Brown argued that because the law refers to effects on “a [singular] scenic resource” and because the designations apply to each lake that regulators were wrong to deny the project based on a collective effect on the lakes as a whole.
The Department of Environmental Protection staff rated impact to seven of the lakes as “Medium” and gave the closest Pleasant Lake an impact rank of “Medium Plus.” The lakes on which the project would have a medium effect were Duck, Junior, Shaw, Keg, Scraggly, Bottle and Sysladobsis.
Brown argued that since regulators found the project would not have a higher effect on any one lake that it met the state site law standard and should have been approved.
“It’s only when they step back and they say overall we think the visual impact is too much given the lakes and the extent of the visibility from the lakes,” Brown said.
Peggy Bensinger, an assistant attorney general representing the Department of Environmental Protection and the Board of Environmental Protection, argued that state site law for wind projects does allow those boards to consider the collective effects of a project on scenic resources.
“They looked at impacts on public use and 45 percent of the people interviewed used two or more lakes in one day,” Bensinger said. “The board said this is a unique circumstance and we should look at the impacts as a whole.”
The project was initiated by First Wind, which SunEdison bought earlier this year.
The 16-turbine proposal was the second the company submitted to build atop Bowers and was reduced from its original proposal for 27 turbines.
The company in August 2013 signed a power purchasing agreement for the Bowers Mountain project with National Grid subsidiary Narragansett Electric, which is based in Rhode Island. That agreement would require First Wind to begin supplying power from Bowers Mountain by March 2017.
The state’s top court could overturn or uphold denial of the project or send the decision back to state agencies with guidance on how to interpret the wind siting law.