Legislators, county commissioners and business owners fear ridge line development will be "a death sentence" to the regional economy.
Four area members of the Legislature have joined county commissioners in Somerset and Piscataquis counties in opposition to proposed industrial wind projects in the Moosehead Lake region as a threat to the area’s tourism-dependent economy.
Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, Rep. Chad Grignon, R-Athens, Rep. Paul Sterns, R-Guilford, and Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, all signed a letter dated Oct. 8 to Judith Judson, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, expressing “our unanimous opposition” to new wind development and high voltage transmission corridors in Somerset County.
“The adverse impact of the proposed projects in one of the nation’s most unspoiled, scenic rich landscapes would be devastating to the enjoyment of our recreational- and wilderness-seeking visitors as well as our highly-valued seasonal residents,” the legislators wrote.
They said the presence of 500-foot wind turbines and miles of transmission corridors “would constitute a death sentence” for the area economy.
The project bids being proposed in the region come in response to Massachusetts Clean Energy and New England Clean Energy, part of a group of agencies and electric utilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island that issued a request for proposals for energy projects last November to help them meet their clean-energy goals and fight climate change.
The legislators targeted five specific projects — four by Central Maine Power Co. — one in cooperation with NextEra Energy Inc. and another with EDF Renewable Energyand a fifth called Somerset Wind by NRG Energy.
Residents spoke in August in Rockwood, in Somerset County, following a PowerPoint presentation by Richard McDonald, president of the anti-wind citizen group Saving Maine and a member of the steering committee Moosehead Region Futures, to voice concerns over the future of the rich aquifer that feeds Moosehead Lake and the long, deep Shirley Bog if the ridgelines are blasted away to make room for industrial wind turbines.
Residents said they feared the 500-foot tall turbines would adversely affect the aviation tradition on the lake as well, which includes the annual fall Greenville Fly-in.
“There’s a lot at stake,” McDonald told the group. “The view and the wilderness experience. There’s a future at stake if you want to develop tourism in the area. The turbines pose a serious threat to the region.”
Somerset County commissioners in September issued a resolution strongly opposing additional wind turbines in the county or the Moosehead Lake region, saying industrial wind turbines and transmission lines would forever spoil the “world class beauty” of the region.
Commissioners were careful to note the fact that proposals of new wind tower projects west of Moosehead Lake would add to the “adverse impact” on the night sky already seen with the 63 wind turbines now working in the Bingham area.
The board also noted the potential impact on ridgeline aquifers from “blasting to create 60-foot craters” for wind turbine ground pads, the permanent disruption to wildlife habitat and the devastation to the regional tourist economy.
Together, the proposed wind projects would include more than 230 turbines, miles of access roads through pristine wilderness, utility substations and transmission corridors.
In their unanimous opposition to new wind turbines and connector corridors, Piscataquis County commissioners wrote to Judson in September, saying that the Moosehead Lake Region Economic Development Corp. has been working for nearly three years on the development of a regional strategic action plan focused on the tourism sector and the rebranding of Moosehead as “America’s crown jewel.”
“This initiative is designed to maintain the natural and cultural character of the area in order to create an 8- to 10-month tourism-based economy that is sustainable,” commissioners wrote. “The high visibility of the proposed wind power project will undercut this strategic plan and have a deleterious effect on preservation of the natural environment and scenic beauty of the region — a necessity for the long-term success of this rebranding effort.”
A 2015 regional tourism impact study found that visits to the Moosehead region generated $979 million in tourism dollars that year, with the Piscataquis County side of the region seeing $712 million in year-round sales, commissioners wrote.
“That is serious money for a sparsely populated area in Maine’s most rural county,” they said.
The irony of this proposed development, commissioners said, is that while the Moosehead Lake area will experience the negative consequences of industrial-scale wind power, all of the electricity generated by Somerset Wind will be sent out of state to benefit places that have fought to keep wind turbines out of their own states.
Also contributing a letter to the opposition package was John Willard, who said he has owned and operated The Birches Resort on Moosehead Lake for the past 48 years. He said people come from all over the world to visit the Moosehead Lake region and that he estimates that “nearly 100 percent” of area people are against the planned projects.
“If southern New England wants so-called green wind energy, they should construct it in their states,” Willard wrote.