Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, and members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. I am Pete Didisheim, Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to provide comments Neither For Nor Against LD 911.
NRCM strongly supports continued development of wind power in Maine as part of a strategy to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, reduce the harmful effects of power plant pollution, promote energy independence, and provide economic benefits to Maine businesses and communities. We also strongly support careful decisions about the permitting of grid-scale projects, making sure that visual and site-specific impacts from construction and location of proposed projects are minimized in accordance with Maine law.
This bill addresses visual impacts of future projects. The bill would create a new “cumulative impacts” standard for evaluating scenic impacts from grid-scale wind power. The Wind Power Task Force recognized that multiple projects within a single viewshed, or along a visual corridor, could have cumulative impacts that should be considered during the permitting process. However, the Task Force recognized that evaluating cumulative impacts can be difficult, and development of a meaningful standard could be challenging.
There can be several types of cumulative impact, for example:
1. Combined or Successive: Where a viewer sees multiple wind facilities or groups of turbines from a stationary point, either in one direction or multiple directions; and
2. Sequential: Where a viewer sees more than one wind project while traveling along a linear route (trail, road, water body.) This may also apply to viewers who travel across a region or use resources of a particular scenic type, such as scenic lakes.
It is not clear to us precisely how the DEP would administer a cumulative impact standard. The threshold for determining whether or not there is an “undue adverse impact” would remain the same whether or not impacts come from one project or multiple. However, this standard would require the DEP to treat wind development proposals differently, depending on the sequence in which they were built. This could create challenges for some projects simply due to timing. This standard could also have the effect of promoting broader distribution of wind projects across Maine’s landscape, and less clustering. This may have positive or negative impacts—depending on your point of view—but this possible affect at least should be considered by the Committee as it reviews this bill.
Regarding the geographic scope or distance for evaluating scenic impacts, we think there are circumstances where looking beyond eight miles is appropriate. This conclusion is based on general experience in Maine with the development of the first dozen wind projects, as well as the fact that turbines are indeed getting taller. Taller turbines that can generate more electricity per turbine is a net benefit from a siting perspective, because it means fewer turbines are needed to achieve a given output. However, the increase in height of turbines is significant and may warrant consideration of a greater distance for visual impact studies.
NRCM is not familiar with technical information on how this height increase may broaden the range of scenic impacts. Therefore, we are uncertain about the specific increase in distance that may be warranted in relation to specific scenic resources of state or national significance. Again, this is an area that the Committee should consider carefully.
Increasing the range of scenic impact evaluation could have a significant impact on the predictability and feasibility of permitting wind power projects. A circle with radius of 15 miles is 3.5 times larger than one with a radius of eight miles, meaning the applicant must conduct a much larger analysis, with each scenic resource in that area a potential reason for the permit to be denied.
If a change is made to existing law, we believe specific circumstances need to be delineated for when impacts beyond eight miles would be most important, and they should be well justified in terms of significance of potential impacts.
We believe this bill brings forward worthy concepts for discussion that could improve Maine’s existing wind power permitting process. However, these concepts warrant careful review. Maine needs to continue to develop well-sited wind power projects, while also balancing site impacts.
We believe that changes to Maine’s wind permitting laws must be evidence-based and not become a way to prevent a careful balancing that needs to occur with each project proposal. We appreciate your consideration of these comments, which are Neither For Nor Against LD 911.