– KEVIN MILLER

Bangor Daily News

BANGOR – A Canadian energy firm’s bid to expand a western Maine wind farm is in jeopardy after state regulators indicated Wednesday they would not support opening more scenic land for the project.

But the Land Use Regulation Commission agreed — after lengthy debate — to consider a similar request from another company hoping to build a third industrial wind farm on the border of Penobscot and Washington counties.

During a straw vote, most LURC members said they likely would vote against a request by TransCanada Corp. to add 631 acres in Franklin County to the list of locations where wind projects benefit from streamlined permitting.

The vote, if it stands, would be a blow to TransCanada’s plan to add 14 turbines to the 44 in place or under construction on Kibby Mountain near Stratton.

Several major environmental groups that had supported the original Kibby Mountain project oppose the expansion due to potential effects on scenery, wildlife and habitat. The vote came one day after four members of the group EarthFirst! were arrested while blockading a road leading to the Kibby Mountain construction site. There were no protests at LURC’s meeting Wednesday in Bangor, however.

Commissioners said they were concerned about impacts on scenic views from nearby Chain of Ponds and hiking trails, on the rare migratory Bicknell’s thrush and on the subalpine habitat on which it depends.

“To me, the impacts far exceed the benefits, so my vote would be to deny this application,” said Commissioner Rebecca Kurtz of Rangeley Plantation.

Juliet Browne, an attorney for TransCanada, said the company was disappointed. TransCanada made the first request to expand Maine’s “expedited wind energy permitting area,” a controversial designation created by the Legislature several years ago to encourage wind-power development.

Under the expedited review, developers must still obtain permits from LURC or the Department of Environmental Protection. But they do not have to rezone the land or prove the project would fit “harmoniously” into the surrounding terrain.

Wednesday’s debate on both the Kibby project and a similar request from First Wind LLC — Maine’s largest wind power company — brought to light frustrations among commissioners about the expedited permitting.

First Wind is petitioning LURC to add roughly 700 acres in Kossuth Township in northern Washington County to the list of streamlined-permitting areas. The Massachusetts-based company has told LURC that it plans to apply this fall for a 25-turbine wind farm stretching from Carroll Plantation to Kossuth Township.

It would be located just south of Route 6 and about eight miles south of First Wind’s 55-turbine Stetson Mountain wind farm. But while Carroll Plantation qualifies for expedited permitting, Kossuth Township doesn’t.

That means First Wind would have to submit two applications for the project unless Kossuth is reclassified. On Wednesday, several commissioners pointed out that, unlike the larger Kibby project, First Wind’s so-called Bowers Mountain project is hypothetical. If LURC chooses to redesignate the 700 acres in Kossuth Township, the land qualifies for expedited permitting whether First Wind builds the Bowers project or not.

Commissioner Ed Laverty of Medford said that could encourage other applicants to try to add their land to the expedited permitting area in order to increase their property values or for other reasons. The commission agreed to begin the rule-making process to consider First Wind’s request.