January 13

Maine bill inspires debate over wind farms’ scenic impact

A state legislative committee considers the wisdom of expanding assessments on the visual impact of proposed wind projects.

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA – Maine must strengthen its laws to ensure wind power development doesn’t hinder the beauty of its natural resources, supporters of a bill to amend the state’s wind energy laws said Monday.

Under a bill being considered by the Energy, Utility and Technology Committee, the state could seek an assessment of the visual impact of a wind project as far as 15 miles from a scenic resource, like the Appalachian Trail, instead of 8 miles as it’s written in current law.

But opponents, like the Sierra Club Maine, said such a requirement will unnecessary burdens on wind energy development, which they say has a significant economic impact on the state and is desperately needed to lessen the dependence on fossil fuels.

Several wind projects have been built across the state since the current law was signed in 2008, and during that time the weakness in the law has become evident, said Democratic Rep. Terry Hayes of Buckfield, the bill’s sponsor.

Changes must be made to ensure Maine strikes the right balance between advancing wind energy development and maintaining the state’s natural beauty, she said.

“If we’re not careful in achieving the right balance between wind power development and Maine’s scenic character, we will lose the very quality of place that makes Maine special,” she said. “So, as with all laws, we make adjustments as our experiences dictate.”

But Glen Brand, director of the Sierra Club Maine, said the measure creates “unworkable subjective standards for evaluating a wind project’s visual impact.” Together with a bill that would change the process for wind project proposals in the state’s unorganized territories, it would deter future wind energy investment in Maine, he said.

That will hamper an industry that has brought not only environmental benefits, but significant economic benefits to the state, said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

Since 2008, more than $1 billion in investment has been pumped into the state and created 240 jobs per year, much of which has benefited rural parts of the state where it is greatly needed, he said.

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