Many in the Unorganized Territory want a greater voice in proposals that now bypass them and go directly to the state for review.
AUGUSTA — Maine’s quest to become a leader in wind power – producing enough megawatts to light up more than a million homes – has gotten pushback from rural residents who say they want a greater voice in proposals that now bypass them and go directly to the state for review.
Maine’s Unorganized Territory has about 400 townships with some 9,000 year-round residents and no incorporated municipal governments. To accommodate then-Gov. John Baldacci’s plans in 2008 for Maine to generate 3,000 megawatts of wind power, lawmakers placed nearly 200 townships and plantations into a zone where proposals would be fast-tracked to the state.
This year, about one in four took legislators up on a one-time offer to be removed from the zone, according to the state’s Land Use Planning Commission. Wind projects could still be built there, but only if companies ask the commission for a rezoning.
It’s unlikely those towns alone will keep Maine from reaching its lofty goals, which also include 40 percent renewable energy by 2017. But Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, said some investors are now being “scared off” with towns leaving the zone. Payne said the expedited state process already includes public hearings and can take years.
Rep. Larry Dunphy, an independent whose district includes several unorganized townships, co-sponsored a 2015 bill that gave voters in them until June 30 to petition the state for removal from the zone. He said residents of a community, and not just landowners, should have some say about what happens where they live.
Unorganized Territory resident Tracy King of Milton Township said she just wants a chance for public review and comment on the proposals.
“We feel that a wind farm will have a negative impact on the environment, our property values and our general quality of life,” she wrote in Milton Township’s petition to leave the zone.
In Vermont, a law passed this year calls on state utility regulators to take local wishes into account when siting new renewable energy projects. The law says cities and towns that have met standards for accommodating renewable energy should get “substantial deference.”
Energize Vermont, which has said the state’s siting policies are too pro-developer, still aren’t happy with the new law. “Substantial deference” has little value in actual practice, the group’s website said.
In Maine, 27 petitions so far have successfully led to sparsely populated plantations and townships being removed from expedited areas. Action is pending on 13 others, and two are going through a review process: Carroll Plantation and Milton Township, where a Pittsburgh company is proposing a wind-power electrical generation site.
The proposal has drawn dozens of comments, from residents, neighboring towns, and clean-energy supporters who say they’re concerned about the effects on wildlife and the quality of life.
Carroll Plantation residents Starr Clough and Holly Worster, who asked for the review, said in a written statement that wind power could help Maine’s economy as mills and forestry industries struggle.
“Don’t let this town become a ghost town,” Clough wrote.
The commission has set a Sept. 28 hearing on Carroll Plantation’s petition.