Maine’s First Wind Farm Proposal Gains Support

Citing the need to reduce the impact of electricity generation on the health of Maine people and the environment, the Natural Resources Council of Maine announced its support of a proposed wind power project under consideration by the Department of Environmental Protection for Mars Hill, Maine. The Council also called for a statewide commitment to generate at least 5% of Maine’s electricity by wind power by 2010.

Presque Isle, Maine – March 12, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] “The time has come to start harnessing some of Maine’s strong winds for the purpose of generating clean, renewable energy,” said the Council’s Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “The Mars Hill project will help reduce air pollution and global warming without harming the environment. When compared with coal, oil, and nuclear power – which currently provide more than 60% of New England’s electricity – wind is a far superior energy source.” Evergreen Wind Power, a Bangor-based subsidiary of UPC Wind Partners, is developing the Mars Hill project. 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. “This project fits well with the energy policy that should guide our state and nation,” said Didisheim. “First, use energy more efficiently; second, put modern pollution controls on old coal- and oil-fired power plants; and third, develop clean renewable energy. These actions will help reduce the smog that harms our health, acid rain that damages our forests, and global warming that is a threat to the whole world.” The Mars Hill project would reduce pollution, including: 120,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 420 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 288 tons of nitrogen oxides annually, because wind power would displace dirtier forms of electricity generation. The state says that these carbon dioxide reductions are equivalent to taking 17,000 cars off the road. “Wind power has very significant benefits for our environment and the health of Maine families, which is why we believe Maine should set a goal of meeting at least five percent of its electricity needs with wind power by 2010,” added Didisheim. This goal can be achieved through the installation of 200 MW of properly sited wind turbines, or roughly four projects the size of the Mars Hill proposal. In late January, Evergreen submitted the Mars Hill permit application to the DEP, which is expected to make a decision about the project this spring. The Council met with the applicants, visited the site, spoke with individuals in Mars Hill and government officials, and evaluated the application. The group concluded that the environmental benefits of the project would substantially outweigh anticipated environmental impacts. In reaching its conclusion, the Council decided that residents of the Mars Hill area were in the best position to assess how the turbines fit into the landscape. The top of Mars Hill already hosts a series of telecommunications towers, roads, transmission lines and a ski area. Based on the Council’s review of the application, the project does not appear to present significant impacts to wildlife or natural resources. The Mars Hill ridge is not known to be a migratory route for birds, and the newer generation turbines to be utilized by the project do not typically result in avian mortality issues, as do some of the older machines in some settings. The developer is committed to conducting two years of post construction studies of avian and other wildlife issues. The most significant identifiable impact of a wind farm is its visual impact, because these are large machines that are clearly visible. Public opinion surveys have found that some people find wind turbines attractive, while others find them unattractive. In other settings in Maine, visual impacts may be a greater concern for the Council. “There are places in Maine where wind power projects should never be considered; Katahdin, Cadillac, Mt. Spencer and Tumbledown are obvious examples,” said Didisheim, “In such locations, natural resource values would be severely compromised by the presence of a large-scale wind power facility. However, the Council strongly believes that Maine can and should accommodate both interests – development of wind power and protection of Maine’s natural beauty.” To help further these goals, the Council called on the State to: 1) establish siting guidelines that help steer developers to the most suitable sites; 2) put certain sites with exceptional scenic, natural resource, and/or remote recreation values off-limits for wind power development; and 3) improve Maine’s permitting process for wind power projects, based on the experiences of other states where wind power is being developed successfully. “We believe the development of wind power, properly located, should be a centerpiece of Maine’s policies to generate clean power, reduce air pollution and halt climate change,” said Didisheim.

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