NRCM news release
The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) today announced its support for a modified version of a wind power project proposed by Maine Mountain Power for two mountains located near the Appalachian Trail in Western Maine. One week before public hearings are set to begin on the project, NRCM is urging both proponents and opponents to agree on a scaled-back project that would reduce environmental impacts on one of Maine’s most prominent stretches of high elevation mountains, while still providing for a very significant wind power development that would reduce global warming pollution.
Maine Mountain Power’s permit application to the Land Use Regulation Commission calls for construction of 12 turbines on Redington Pond Range and 18 turbines on Black Nubble, with a total capacity of 90 Megawatts (MW). NRCM supports only the Black Nubble turbines, and believes Redington Pond Range should be placed into permanent protection as mitigation for the impacts of development. Redington Pond Range is the only mountain in Maine above 4,000’ (other than Sugarloaf Ski Area) that is not currently protected from development.
“Strong passions have surfaced in connection with this proposal, and people on both sides of the issue are correct,” said NRCM Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “It is essential that Maine reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, and we also need to protect wild places that make Maine special. We believe that a constructive solution is available that would provide meaningful progress toward both goals.”
The reconfiguration called for by NRCM would result in a 54 Megawatt (MW) wind farm on Black Nubble – which would be one of the largest wind power projects in New England. Such a project would generate as much electricity as is used by 22,000 Maine homes annually. It would produce more renewable energy per year than all but five of Maine’s 102 hydropower facilities. “A Black Nubble project would provide a big step forward for wind power development in New England,” said Didisheim, “while protecting one of Maine’s tallest peaks.”
NRCM strongly supports wind power development as a way of reducing society’s dependence on fossil fuels, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting air pollution, and contributing to Maine’s economy. NRCM endorsed the Mars Hill wind power project currently under construction in Aroostook County, and has called for Maine to meet 5 percent of its electricity needs from wind power by 2010 and 10 percent by 2020. NRCM evaluates each wind power proposal independently, and believes that some locations in Maine are not appropriate for wind power development. Redington Pond Range is one such place.
“Redington lies in the heart of one of Maine’s few remaining high-alpine roadless areas, with a fragile, remote, and unfragmented forest that is prime habitat for a range of important species, including the threatened Bicknell’s Thrush,” said Didisheim. Maine Audubon and the Appalachian Mountain Club have expressed strong concerns about the potential impacts of the project, especially on the ecological values and resources of Redington Pond Range. The National Park Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and Maine Appalachian Trail Club have voiced deep concerns about the impact on the remote character of the region if 420-foot-tall turbines were built so close to the Appalachian Trail. The Redington turbines would be one mile from the Trail at the nearest location.
“Many of the major concerns that critics have raised about the project would be significantly reduced if the developers limited it to Black Nubble,” said Didisheim. “There would be less road building, less habitat fragmentation, reduced risks to threatened species, and reduced visual impacts – yet Maine would still have the benefits of a significant new source of clean renewable power.” All of the turbines slated for Black Nubble would be at least 3 miles from the Appalachian Trail, and substantially further from many key vistas along the AT, making them less prominent features on the landscape. The ecological impacts would be reduced because Black Nubble is on the periphery of the habitat region of greatest concern.
NRCM hired a Boston-based energy consulting firm, La Capra Associates, to conduct a financial viability analysis of a 54 MW Black Nubble project. Using data available from the developer and its knowledge of energy markets and project costs, La Capra’s financial model shows that the modified project could be profitable for investors. “Maine Mountain Power has stated for the record that a Black Nubble project would not be viable, but our analysis suggests otherwise,” says Didisheim. “The people of Maine are being asked to make a difficult trade-off in allowing a major wind farm to be located in one of our state’s most precious mountain areas. We believe that the developer can and should meet us half-way,” said Didisheim.
NRCM has filed extensive testimony (including the La Capra analysis) with Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission in advance of the public hearings proposed for August 2-4 at Sugarloaf. NRCM is an intervenor in the proceeding and will use its testimony to explain why the Commission should deny the request to rezone the top of Redington to allow turbine construction, while at the same time permitting a wind farm on Black Nubble.
“NRCM has closely followed this project since it was first discussed more than a decade ago. We have visited the site, studied the 1,600-page application, listened to proponents and opponents, and hired our own consultants to help us develop an independent assessment,” said Didisheim. “Maine has one opportunity to make its best judgment about whether to allow wind turbines to be built in the Redington mountain area, and if so, how many, in what locations, and on what terms. Given the complex mix of challenging, conflicting, and legitimate issues on all sides of this issue, NRCM strongly believes that a Black Nubble option is the best compromise.”
“All of us currently use electricity generated from coal, oil, and other sources that are causing significant harm to the environment and public health. We cannot escape our individual responsibility for some of the impacts on other people’s lives caused by our appetite for electricity. Trade-offs must be made, and Maine must be part of the solution,” said NRCM Energy Project Director Dylan Voorhees.
This permit application is being considered at a time when wind power projects are facing difficulty receiving approval in New England, yet when there is growing public concern about global warming and our dependence on foreign fuels.
“The stakes are high. The stage is set for conflict. But we believe a constructive alternative is possible. We also believe that Maine people would strongly support a sensible solution that balances competing needs, and helps avoid a protracted all-or-nothing battle between attorneys on opposing sides,” said Didisheim. “NRCM urges all the parties to help make the compromise happen.”