Senator Peter Edgecomb, Chair
Representative Craig Hickman, Chair
Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry
My name is Dylan Voorhees and I am the Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Thank you for allowing us to present this testimony.
NRCM has been an active participant in the development of wind power in Maine, helping craft policy and being involved in the permitting process for many individual projects. NRCM served on the Governor’s Wind Energy Task Force that worked for over a year to craft a set of balanced recommendations that led to Maine’s Wind Energy Act in 2008. The purpose of that Act was to foster greater wind power in Maine while protecting Maine’s environment and ensuring wind development benefited our economy and local communities. We believe that adjustments to the law may be needed from time to time, but they should advance this balanced purpose.
LD 828 would significantly undermine one of the principle purposes of the Act: facilitating development in regions of the state less likely to have broad, landscape level conflicts, and guiding it away from those core parts of Maine’s North Woods where such conflicts were likely. This bill would therefore threaten both Maine’s environment and efficient economic development of renewable energy.
Because many members of this committee may be unfamiliar with Maine’s wind laws, our testimony includes some background on the issue and current statutory context. While NRCM opposes this bill (and the bill proposed by the wind industry, LD 791), we do believe Maine’s laws should be changed to allow areas to be removed from the expedited area if doing so is well justified.
We believe wind power is an essential component of increasing Maine’s energy independence, reducing the harmful effects of power plant pollution, and providing economic benefits to Maine businesses, workers and ratepayers. All energy sources, even renewable ones like wind power have some negative impacts. If we cannot accept some of the impacts of wind power, we will likely suffer greater impacts from alternatives. However while wind power can help protect the broader Maine environment from negative effects of climate change and air pollution, it can also unduly impact ecosystems and landscapes if not properly sited. Maine’s permitting laws must provide adequate guidance to ensure the proper balance between competing state goals of increasing renewable energy and protecting ecosystems and landscapes.
To put our comments in context, we offer a brief summary of the six key elements of the Wind Energy Act. When this committee considers amendments proposed in this bill, it is important to keep in mind the changes the Act made to standard permitting for large-scale development.
The Wind Energy Act:
- Made wind power an allowed use in 1/3 of the unorganized territory (UT); wind power projects otherwise would have required rezoning. Although it didn’t change the underlying zoning districts, it overlaid wind as an allowable use in the so-called expedited area. Rezoning for major development in the UT is an intensive and time consuming process. In addition, leaving 2/3 of the UT—the core of Maine’s North Woods—outside the “expedited permitting area” helps guide development away from the most remote areas so essential to Maine’s character.
- Changed the standard for evaluating impacts on scenic resources and related uses to one more specifically tailored to wind development.
- Limited the role of the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) to appeals of Department permitting decisions, and expediting appeals of BEP decisions directly to the Law Court.
- Set specific, ambitious goals for wind development in Maine. These non-binding goals were based on an analysis of Maine’s wind power potential and our goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Required wind development to provide tangible benefits to host communities, which was further specified as a minimum of $4000/year/turbine in excess of property taxes through a community benefits package that could include a variety of uses.
- Made a variety of more minor changes to make the permitting process more consistent across wind projects, such as ensuring noise standards apply even to non-Site Law projects or listing the requirements for permit applications.
LD 828 would eliminate almost all of the expedited area as it currently exists. Because almost none of the windy places in the UT have underlying zoning that allows development, it would return the entire UT to the old two-step process for wind akin to rezoning first, followed by development permitting. (In the so-called “provisional expedited area”, the first step to add the area to the expedited area wouldn’t technically be rezoning, but it would be very similar.) In doing so it would make development harder in all of the areas that were broadly deemed more appropriate for wind from a landscape-level perspective. That would be harmful to renewable energy development, which is generally positive for Maine’s economic development, energy security and climate goals.
The second consequence of this change would be to make it equally difficult to permit wind development across the entire UT. That means a developer would have no incentive to avoid wind development along the Allagash River, for example, or deep into the remote North Woods that help define Maine’s unique identity. Indeed, because some believe wind power should be sited far from any people, passage of this bill would likely increase pressure for developers to build infrastructure in those areas. That means this bill would also be harmful to retaining undeveloped character in key parts of the North Woods.
Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, we believe the committee could re-consider legislation considered by the energy committee in the past that would create a specific process for removing specific areas from the expedited area.
Attached to our testimony is language supported by NRCM, Maine Audubon and the Appalachian Mountain Club. It was developed as an amendment to LD 616, sponsored by Rep. Dunphy last session. This bill would create a process for UT residents to petition LUPC to remove places from the expedited area. Petitioners would have to explain why an area should be removed, which essential means justifying why development in that location should have to go through a two-step process beginning with rezoning. LUPC would consider this evidence and make a decision. Local residents, landowners, developers and other interested parties would all have a chance to weigh in at a public hearing.
Stakeholders should note that we have made two modifications to our previously proposed language. First, we have dropped the limitation that areas to be removed need to be adjacent to existing non-expedited areas. Second, we have used more inclusive language with regard to the size of the area that can be petitioned for removal.
We hope the committee will vote down the two bills before you, and that the alternative language we have provided may represent a more targeted middle ground for adjustments to the wind law.
ATTACHMENT – Proposed approach for process to remove areas from expedited area:
§3453-A. Removal of specific locations from the expedited permitting area
The Maine Land Use Planning Commission may remove specific locations from the expedited permitting area in accordance with this section and rules adopted by the Maine Land Use Planning Commission. Rules adopted under this section must include, but are not limited to, provisions that:
1. Process. Establish a process to demonstrate that the removal of the specific location is supported by the registered voters within the specific location. The process must include:
A. A public hearing at which supporters and opponents are permitted to speak. Speakers at the public hearing are not required to be residents of the specific location; and
B. A petition process that requires that the petition:
(1) Clearly state the boundaries of the specific location being proposed for removal;
(2) Clearly state that those signing the petition are in support of the removal of the specific location from the expedited permitting area;
(3) Be signed by a number of registered voters within the specific location equal to or greater than 50% of the registered voters within the specific location that voted in the most recent gubernatorial election; and permitting area is being sought, including the specific need for the specific location to undergo the process for reclassification of a land use district under Title 12, section 685-A that may occur as part of the standard permitting process; and
2. Limitation. Limit the removal of a specific location:
A. With respect to which the Maine Land Use Planning Commission determines that the specific need under subsection 1, paragraph B cannot be met through the expedited permitting process;
B. That can be removed from the expedited permitting area without compromising fulfillment of the State’s policy regarding wind energy pursuant to section 3404, subsection 1.
Rules adopted under this section to establish the process for removing locations from the expedited permitting area are major substantive rules pursuant to Title 5, chapter 375, subchapter 2-A.
Sec. 2. PL 2007, c. 661, Pt. C, §6, first paragraph is amended to read:
Sec. C-6. Expedited permitting area designation; permitted use. No later than September 1, 2008, the Maine Land Use Planning Commission shall adopt a rule listing the following specific places within the State’s unorganized and deorganized areas, which comprise the expedited permitting area for purposes of this Act, except that the commission may subsequently add additional or remove areas to this list by rule in the manner provided by this Act in accordance with the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 35-A, chapter 34-A: