Presented at January 24th LURC meeting at University of Maine Farmington
by Pete Didisheim, NRCM advocacy director
Commissioners, LURC staff, members of the audience, my name is Pete Didisheim. I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to provide some final comments for this proceeding.
NRCM recognizes that you have a very difficult decision to make today on behalf of the people of Maine.
If you vote to approve the project – then you would be making a decision that would dramatically alter the landscape of a very special place in Maine’s interior mountains. You would, in effect, be deciding that Maine people – today and future generations – need to sacrifice a rare resource because of our society’s need for electricity and cleaner forms of power. You would be deciding that such a sacrifice is what we deserve to satisfy our addiction to energy – and that wind power in these mountains causes less harm than does coal, oil, and nuclear power. This is a difficult decision: approving a project that would harm an irreplaceable natural landscape in Maine in exchange for benefits that would remain largely invisible to us.
If you vote to deny the project – then you would be terminating a very significant renewable energy project at a time of growing awareness about the imperative of addressing global warming. You would, in effect, be deciding that this site – right next to the Appalachian Trail – is too special and too controversial to accept this level of harm. But in so doing, you would kill a project that has been in the works for 15 years, at considerable expense, a project that would, in fact, provide a significant amount of renewable power and would help reduce the impacts of our existing energy system. Saying no to the project also would be a very difficult decision.
This is not easy decision. It is a struggle. Both sides of the argument have legitimate points of view. That is why NRCM worked so hard to investigate whether there might be a compromise solution. With the help of La Capra Associates, we explored whether a 54MW project involving only the 18 turbines on Black Nubble, but not the 12 turbines on the more sensitive Redington Pond Range, would be financially viable. We were convinced last summer, and remain convinced today, that such a compromise solution would be viable. A 54MW Black Nubble-only project would be a very large wind farm, far larger than the 15MW project that the developer originally said he would be pursuing in 1993 at the start of this project. And protection of Redington as part of such a compromise would be a very substantial land conservation achievement. We tried hard to get the applicant and the opponents to accept this modified approach, but were unable to do so. We continue to believe that the Black Nubble-only option would provide a better balance of the competing interests of Maine people. We also wonder whether a more concerted effort, perhaps involving LURC staff, could have helped forge a compromise solution.
We recognize the hard work by LURC staff in managing this proceeding, and evaluating the thousands of pages in the public record. NRCM was surprised, however, that the staff recommendation so readily dismissed the Black Nubble-only option simply because the applicant was opposed. We also were surprised that the staff recommendation does not reveal a greater sense of struggle over the competing interests and values. Instead, it reads as a ratification of essentially every point made by the applicant – with little validation of the strong views and testimony of those who would experience a real sense of loss if the project were approved.
If the Commission’s inclination is toward approval, then we would strongly recommend that you give careful consideration to the mitigation and public benefits provided by this project – which we do not believe is sufficient given the sensitivity of the location, and in comparison with other projects. The applicant has proposed to leave in a protected condition the roughly 900 acres of unutilized forestland on the top of Black Nubble and Redington. In testimony, the developer also proposed purchasing 300 additional acres, yet this offer does not seem to be in the application or referenced in the staff recommendation. The project is expected to pay roughly $500,000 in property taxes, roughly the same as the Mars Hill project – which is less than half the size.
Given the impacts that this project would have on the visual resources of the region, we do not believe that this level of mitigation and tax payments come close to meeting a publicly beneficial balance. We believe the Commission could condition approval of any final development plan on submission of a mitigation package that meets certain minimum criteria – including protection of a much more significant amount of land within the Caribou Valley viewshed that will be impacted by the project. The developer of a 30MW project in Maui, in a similarly sensitive landscape, agreed to spend up to $4.2 million in net conservation benefits as mitigation for project impacts.
In conclusion, let me say that although this proceeding has taken the form of a competition between two opposing camps, I hope we can all keep in mind that the real villain in this debate is our dependence on energy. You would not be sitting here today deliberating whether to build a wind power project in the heart of some of the most beautiful mountains in Maine if it weren’t for our seemingly insatiable appetite for electricity – and if our current forms of power generation weren’t the source of such significant harm to the environment, public health, and future generations.
Thank you, and we appreciate the challenge you face in making this decision.