MOOSEHEAD LAKE, ME -The Land Use Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the petitions submitted by Moosehead residents that remove 10 townships of the region's Unorganized Territories (UTs) from the expedited wind permitting area.
Moosehead residents seek to stop the construction of Somerset Wind, a 26 turbine, 85 megawatt industrial wind farm being planned for the west side of Moosehead Lake. Two large timberland owners, Weyerhaeuser and Frontier Forest, have requested the Commission conduct substantive reviews of the four remaining townships.
Weyerhaeuser is leasing the land to the wind developer and wants Sapling and Long Pond Townships and Taunton-Raynham Academy Grant reviewed. This year Weyerhaeuser merged with Plum Creek, which by 2009 had been approved for the largest development and conservation plan in Maine history. The wind farm would be located on Misery Ridge, near those townships, and within the conservation easement that was purchased by conservation groups as part of a multi-million dollar deal with Plum Creek. The purchased easement was intended to offset new zoning in a Concept Plan that opens the lake region to wide residential and commercial development. The provision to further place industrial wind development on conservation land was contested by the Moosehead Region Futures Committee (MRFC), a local citizen planning group.
“The easement was intended to help mitigate high impact development areas planned by Plum Creek. The approval to allow industrial wind in a conservation easement is counterintuitive. Why would you set aside land for conservation, then site 26, 500-foot tall industrial wind turbines and associated facilities on a ridgeline overlooking Moosehead Lake?" said John Willard, president of MRFC.
The fourth review, of Dennistown Township, was requested by Frontier Forest, LLC. Frontier Forest is owned by billionaire John Malone and managed by LandVest. The Frontier Forest, LLC land is not involved with the Somerset Wind project.
"We're gathering the necessary resources to mount an effective defense of the remaining petitions and look forward to the hearings," said Willard. "This is round one in our fight to stop the inappropriate siting of industrial wind development in the Moosehead region."
"The Somerset Wind development is a threat to the region's tourism-based economy and the livelihoods of thousands of local residence. MRFC is committed to defeating this project," he added.
As the resident petition process continues, SunEdison,the developer behind the Somerset Wind project, appears to be headed to bankruptcy, due to the collapse of its stock price and legal actions against the company filed in state and Federal courts, according to a variety of financial news reports. The lawsuits claim irregularities in the company's business practices through a series of complicated financial maneuvers.
In addition to the lawsuits, SunEdison is being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission and the U. S. Department of Justice. As of April 6, SunEdison's stock had collapsed to $.36 a share.
Willard said he would welcome the opportunity to meet with Weyerhaeuser to discuss the Somerset Wind project, since he sees an advantage for all parties to talk, given the project's potential negative impacts on the region and the uncertainty of SunEdison's financial picture.
Last year, SunEdison installed five 250-foot tall meteorological (met) towers on Misery Ridge. Because of SunEdison's continuing financial problems, MRFC is concerned that the met towers could be abandoned, become a permanent eyesore, and a public safety hazard.
"What's going to happen if they are abandoned? Who would be responsible for the expense of removing them? The developers may go bankrupt, and the Moosehead region will be stuck with this mess," said Willard. "We need to come together as a region and make plans now for how this may unfold if SunEdison files for bankruptcy."
Moosehead Region Futures Committee's (MRFC) mission is to encourage, gather and incorporate area residents' ideas and expertise to shape and balance the region's future development, economy, and conservation efforts.