Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday placed a moratorium on permits for new wind energy generation facilities. He also said he will submit legislation this year that would eliminate an expedited permitting process that is currently in law.
An executive order issued by the governor Wednesday also creates the Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission to study the impact of turbine farms on the environment, property values and tourism and to produce a report on those issues. In his executive order,
“I order that no permits related to wind turbines are issued … until the report is issued in writing,” said LePage, who also specified that the commission is not subject to Maine’s Freedom of Access Act and its meetings won’t be “public proceedings.” Maine law allows the governor to exempt commissions he creates from public records laws.
A spokesman from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said Wednesday that there are no applications for wind power generation projects currently pending.
Dylan Voorhees, clean energy project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, questioned whether LePage can unilaterally call for a moratorium, though the Department of Environmental Protection permits wind farms in what is known as the “expedited permitting area.” Permits in the unorganized territory face a higher and arguably tougher permitting process through the Land Use Planning Commission.
“The expedited permitting area was created after a lot of discussion in order to create predictable development of renewable energy sources,” said Voorhees. “There’s a reason there are no applications for wind turbines in the Allagash.”
LePage’s order comes a day or so before Massachusetts is due to announce the winning bidder for a massive renewable energy contract. Among the competitors is Central Maine Power, which factors wind power from western Maine in one of its proposals. If CMP and the Maine coalition win the contract, Voorhees said there are a handful of companies ready to enter the permitting process for more wind farms.
“Wind power in Maine is largely competing against Canadian hydropower,” said Voorhees. LePage has long advocated in favor of hydropower to help lower Maine’s energy costs and is staunchly against wind as long as the electricity it generates is more expensive than market rates.
LePage argues that a major thrust of the wind power commission will be to protect Maine’s tourism economy.
“We cannot afford to damage our natural assets in ways that would deter visitors from returning to Maine,” said LePage in a written statement.
The commission will include representatives from the governor’s energy office, the departments of economic development and environmental protection, the Public Utilities Commission, the Legislature, municipal officials, business owners and industry groups.
House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said in a written statement that LePage is improperly circumventing the Legislature.
“I’m confident that this backward-looking executive order, in clear conflict with existing statute, would be unable to withstand legal scrutiny,” Gideon said.