December 28, 2013

Monhegan residents voice concerns over proposed offshore wind project

Residents worry about noise and visual impacts, as well as effects on lobstering.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Some residents of Monhegan aren’t ready to trade their cherished natural sanctuary for cheaper electricity.

Residents and visitors to the island have submitted their concerns to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which is considering the merits of a pilot wind-power project called Maine Aqua Ventus. The project could lead to a 50-turbine wind farm in the Gulf of Maine that could produce enough power for 6,000 homes and slash the cost of electricity on Monhegan, which is 16 miles off the mainland.

The proposed test site is about 2.9 miles off the southern shore of the 4.5-square-mile island, a haven for artists and bird-watchers where about 45 people, including eight lobstermen, live year-round.

Businesses and elected officials back the project because of its economic benefits and the potential for Maine to become a global leader in offshore wind-power development. But the scale of the project and its momentum have some island residents concerned.

In the fall, they formed a task force to act as a liaison between islanders and Maine Aqua Ventus, proposed by Maine Prime Technologies, which represents the University of Maine and two private partners, Maine-based Cianbro Corp. and Emera Inc. of Nova Scotia.

Kathie Lannicelli, a 21-year resident of the island, is on the 10-member task force. She said Friday that the panel was formed to make sure residents’ voices are heard. About half of the residents have concerns but are cautiously optimistic about the proposal, Lannicelli said, while the rest are outright opposed.

“There’s a kind of panic that this is something that’s unstoppable,” she said.

CONCERNS: NOISE, VIEWS, WILDLIFE

Supporters hope the project will secure a $46 million federal grant that could make Maine a leader in offshore wind power. They say islanders would get electricity for about 30 cents per kilowatt hour, less than half their current rate of 70 cents – the highest in the country – for 20 years.

But Winnie Murdock, a 36-year resident of the island, said people there don’t care about the cheaper electricity, and they’re not philosophically opposed to wind energy.

“We all want to do our part to stop global warming and get off fossil fuels,” she said. “We just think that if wind turbines have to be 10 miles off the coast (of Maine), why don’t they have to be 10 miles off the coast of Monhegan?”

Residents told the PUC in written comments that they worry about noise and the visual impact of two turbines and towers that would be more than 300 feet tall and float on 30-foot-tall platforms, as well as the effects on birds and marine life.

Murdock also worries about her family’s livelihood. Her husband and son are among the eight lobstermen who fish in the Monhegan Conservation Area, a 30-square-mile zone that includes the island and neighboring Manana Island. The Aqua Ventus project would be located in the conservation area, which the Legislature reserved for Monhegan’s licensed lobstermen in 1997. The proposed test site is about 2.5 square miles.

Not all Monhegan lobstermen fish in that area, Murdock said, but her family worries that those who do will crowd together to avoid the platforms and their moorings.

Some residents who expressed support to the PUC tempered it with caution.

“That isn’t to say we don’t have concerns,” wrote Matt Weber, a 19-year resident and lobsterman, “however, we feel that wind power is a positive solution to the issues around fossil fuels.”

Weber posed questions about noise and potential compensation for lobstermen, who he wrote “will certainly lose a significant chunk of our bottom.”

PROJECT CHANGES, BAD INFORMATION

Jake Ward, UMaine’s vice president for innovation and economic development, said Friday that project developers are taking the concerns seriously and communicating with residents. But he said some of the complaints are based on wrong information or a misunderstanding of the project.

(Continued on page 2)

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