As communities want to opt out of fast-track wind development, forestland companies want a review.

Forest products companies that own land in unorganized and deorganized parts of Maine are challenging petitions by residents of the communities who want to opt out of fast-track commercial wind development.

Since Jan.1 more than 20 communities have petitioned the state under a new law that allows residents of the Unorganized Territory to ask for exemptions to the expedited wind permitting area created under Maine’s Wind Energy Act. Several of those petitions were filed Jan. 4, the first Monday after the law went into effect. Those challenging that first round of petitions had a deadline of midnight Monday to file challenges.

Communities have until June 30 to submit petitions to the Maine Land Use Planning Commission asking for exemption from the expedited area, and opponents have 45 days following the submission of the petition to challenge it. If no requests are submitted for the review of a petition, it will be approved and the land in question will automatically become excluded from the expedited permitting area.

By Monday afternoon the commission had received letters from three commercial landowners and a private individual challenging the requests of seven communities seeking to be excluded from the expedited wind permitting area, according to Samantha Horn-Olsen, planning manager for the commission.

Those challenging petitions so far include Seattle-based Plum Creek, which owns 400,000 acres in the Moosehead Lake region; timber companies Frontier Forest LLC and Lakeville Shores Inc.; and Milton Township private landowner Wayne S. Buck Sr.

Rep. Larry Dunphy, (I-Embden), who sponsored the law allowing communities to opt out, said he expects a large number of the petitions to be challenged.

“The reason I think these large landowners are challenging this is it’s pretty lucrative for them to lease their land. A lot of these wind developments are on high ridges that probably don’t get harvested a lot anyway. They simply lease that land, they make a ton of money and retain the rights to the land,” Dunphy said.

Still, he said the law is not about stopping wind development, but rather about allowing small communities to have a say in the permitting process.

Challenges require the state to thoroughly review the petitions and allow public comment, possibly through public hearings.

The Unorganized Territory is that area of Maine that has no local incorporated municipal government, according to Maine Revenue Services. There are more than 400 townships and islands that fall in the Unorganized Territory and about 9,000 year-round residents.

Forestland owners are “exercising their right to request a complete and thorough review of how such a land use designation change would affect their property, its value and future potential uses,” said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, in a written statement. The council represents many of the timber harvesting companies that own land in those parts of the state and has worked with some landowners on challenging the petitions.

Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, said that while the association does not plan to challenge any of the petitions, he said the petition process has brought uncertainty to the wind industry.

“I understand local folks will feel they now have their voices heard, but I think that process is already in place through the Department of Environmental Protection,” Payne said. “At a minimum I think it has caused some companies to push pause on their development plans, and at a maximum I think it has caused some companies to redeploy their capital outside of Maine.”


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