AUGUSTA — Each of us served on the Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development and supported Maine’s Wind Energy Act. We share the belief that wind power must be part of Maine’s energy future.

But we emphatically disagree with Orlando Delogu’s conclusion in his Aug. 1 column (“LURC lacks vision to act on wind”) that the Land Use Regulation Commission’s treatment of the Kibby No. 2 permit application suggests that Maine’s wind law is broken.

To the contrary, we believe that LURC’s deliberations were entirely consistent with the direction set forth by the task force and by Maine law.

Mr. Delogu bemoans the fact that LURC did not engage in discussion of the “big picture” issues of climate change and renewable energy development. Prior to passage of the wind power siting law, hearings on wind power applications included extensive testimony about the clean air benefits of wind power and the value of these projects in reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

After extensive review of these issues, the task force concluded that the need for renewable energy and the benefits of its development should be accepted as a matter of law, not rehashed during each permit review.

The lack of discussion of these issues at the Kibby No. 2 hearing, rather than being an oversight on LURC’s part, was in fact in keeping with the task force’s recommendations and the Legislature’s directive that the permitting process should focus on the appropriateness of each proposed site.

It was never the intent of the task force to turn LURC (or, within organized communities, the Department of Environmental Protection) into a rubber stamp that would approve every application. The objectives guiding the task force included not only “to make Maine a leader in wind power development” but also “to protect Maine’s quality of place and natural resources.”

Just as with other types of development, being an allowed use does not guarantee a permit for a project — it still needs to meet certain standards before it can be approved.

The law enacting the task force’s recommendations states, “Nothing in this section is meant to diminish the importance of addressing as appropriate site-specific impacts on natural values, including, but not limited to, wildlife, wildlife habitats and other ecological values.”

The law relaxed the standards relating to scenic values, but it maintained the need to protect important scenic values of statewide or national significance. It also retained the requirement that before a project can be approved, LURC must determine that “there will be no undue adverse effect on existing uses, scenic character, and natural and historic resources in the area likely to be affected by the proposal.”

LURC properly focused its discussion on the Kibby No. 2 application on the question of whether the project would have an “undue adverse impact” on significant natural and scenic values. In this case, the values include impacts to a pristine, rare subalpine forest community, habitat for Bicknell’s thrush (the Northeast’s rarest migratory songbird and a species of global conservation concern) and the outstanding scenic character of the Chain of Ponds and the Arnold Trail.

Our organizations concluded that the northern eight of TransCanada’s 15 proposed turbines would not cause an undue adverse impact, but that the southern seven turbines would cause serious impacts and should be denied. In its July straw vote, a majority of the commissioners reached the same conclusion.

Mr. Delogu may disagree that part of the proposed project would create an undue adverse impact on significant natural and scenic resources, but there is no basis for his conclusion that this decision was the result of a flawed process.

The laws and rules governing wind power siting in Maine are not broken. Since the revised wind power siting law went into effect in 2008, four large-scale projects have been approved. Maine clearly is the leading state in New England in developing wind power.

That LURC voiced opposition to a portion of one project shows that the commission is giving careful consideration to the specifics of each project.

The task force’s recommendations and the subsequent legislation may have narrowed the scope of debate as to which sites are appropriate for development, but they did not answer every question.

The job of finding the appropriate balance between resource protection and renewable energy development at the detailed, project-specific level remains with the state’s permitting agencies.

Rather than crying foul when they render a decision we don’t like, we should support them as they continue the difficult task of finding the right balance.

 

– Special to The Press Herald