Maine Wind Farm Proposal Stalled

Progress towards construction of a new utility-scale wind farm in Maine has been dealt a major blow from environmentalists concerned over possible avian issues. Maine’s largest wildlife organization filed an appeal to the permit granted last month to Evergreen Windpower, LLC to construct a wind-power farm in the town of Mars Hill in Aroostook County.

Mars Hill, Maine – July 12, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] The organization believes that because the Maine Department of Environmental Protection did not require Evergreen Windpower to conduct preconstruction studies to help determine whether the project would harm wildlife, the permit was granted in violation of Maine law protecting wildlife. “Clearly, Maine Audubon does not oppose wind power, which can be a clean and significant source of renewable energy beneficial to people and wildlife,” said Kevin Carley, Maine Audubon executive director. “That’s why it’s essential to take advantage of this opportunity to make what may be Maine’s first large-scale, commercial wind-power plant a model of how to do things right.” Maine environmental law requires permit applicants to show that their projects will not unreasonably harm or adversely affect wildlife. In March, Maine Audubon requested that before granting a construction permit to Evergreen, the DEP require the company to conduct on-site, preconstruction studies during spring and fall bird-migration seasons. The studies would show how birds and bats use air space and habitat in the proposed project area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and, initially, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife also asked DEP to require these studies. Maine Audubon said that in some cases data from wind farms has shown that turbines can pose a serious and lethal threat to raptors, bats and migratory songbirds. The group added that problems tend to be more profound where there are abundant bird populations nearby and/or if the site is part of a migratory corridor. Evergreen Windpower has not collected any original data on migrating birds, bats or raptors at the project site. In fact, migratory pathways over the interior of Maine have never been studied, according to Audubon. However, for a wind-power project proposed for Maine’s Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain, Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission required studies similar to those Maine Audubon has recommended in Mars Hill. Evergreen WindPower has firmly defended their proposal. Peter Gish of UPC Wind Partners, the parent company of Evergreen, told the Associated Press that Maine Audubon has called for an “unfair standard” for wind turbines as compared to other types of development. “This is already a developed site, with a ski area, and ATV trails, and six cell towers – some taller than the turbines are going to be,” Gish said. “There is no evidence whatsoever that this is a migratory bird path.” While there may be no evidence working against the developers, there isn’t much working for them either. The area may turn out to be perfect for wind power development, but Audubon wants that determined before any major construction proceeds. “Without at least some site specific information before the project is built, it is impossible to conclude that the project will not adversely affect these animals,” said Jody Jones, Maine Audubon wildlife biologist. “The studies we have suggested are not difficult to conduct — and are in line with the requirements of Maine law. Done the right way from the beginning, this has the potential to be a project deserving the support of everyone in Maine who cares about the environment.” The Town of Mars Hill is a co-applicant for a permit from the DEP to construct up to 33 turbines on the hill that gives the town its name. The project would be located along the ridge of Mars Hill and on adjacent agricultural lands. The Big Rock Ski Area is located on the southwest face of Mars Hill. When completed, the 50 MW project would generate sufficient electricity to meet the needs of up to 25,000 homes, according to the developer.
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