Articles from Maine
In a ruling issued Monday, Kennebec County Superior Court justice Michaela Murphy overturned a controversial regulatory decision Aho made in June 2011 involving noise violations at a Vinalhaven wind farm, saying there was “no rational basis or relevant evidence” to support it. Aho’s decision, which reversed the recommendations of DEP staff and the Attorney General’s Office, was the exact outcome sought by Vinalhaven’s Fox Island Wind, which was represented by Pierce Atwood, the state’s largest law firm, where Aho had worked until earlier that year.
After three years of litigation, a Maine Superior Court decision has finally found in favor of wind turbine neighbors complaining about excessive noise from three nearby 1.5 megawatt GE wind turbines. Although citizens across the United States living near wind turbines are complaining -- including lawsuits against wind turbine operators -- this is the first court case where a state judge has found against a state agency charged with enforcement; the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
When those customers are generating power from their own energy sources, they’re not buying power from CMP, thereby reducing the company’s revenue. CMP wants to charge those customers a special rate to reflect the fact that even though they aren’t buying power all the time, they expect CMP to provide them with reliable distribution service. It’s an issue in other states, too, as power companies adapt to increasing power generation “behind the meter,” on-site by small-scale producers.
The bill as amended adds new criteria to the state's wind-energy goals, including one that says new grid-scale wind power projects in Maine must show how they will reduce the price of electricity, create jobs and bolster the state's manufacturing industries prior to approval for construction by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Six years into a state plan to charge ahead with wind development, the game may be changing. Gov. Paul LePage has put forth a bill that would shift the goal posts and redefine what the state expects from its wind projects. While the LePage administration argues that the state can and should switch strategies, pro-wind interests say the bill is just the latest attempt to tackle the industry before it can gain any yardage.
At issue is the role of each company in the electricity market. Emera distributes electricity. First Wind generates it, through wind turbines. When Emera joined with First Wind in 2012 to create a new power generating company, that presented a problem, says Eric Bryant, senior counsel with the Maine Public Advocate. "Because it controls the poles and the wires, it could do things to its grid that would favor one type of generator over another," Bryant says.
The court’s decision puts into question the validity of the deal among the four companies. The deal was undertaken after getting PUC approval; if that approval is invalid, can the deal still stand? “It does create a certain moment of awkwardness as to exactly what the status quo is at this point,” said Welch. “We’re certainly going to be soliciting the views of all the parties in the case as to what they think the implications of this are.”
Today the Maine Supreme Judicial Court vacated the Public Utilities Commission decision that illegally allowed a merger between Canadian utility Emera and Boston wind generation developer First Wind.
Maine set ambitious goals to spur wind power development but now Republican Gov. Paul LePage says the targets don’t really help the state and are so far out of reach as to be meaningless, so why have them?A bill recently introduced by the governor would do away with the megawatt targets and replace them with goals to expand economic opportunities and lower electricity prices.
The 12 long-term wind power purchase agreements (PPAs) equal an impressive 409 MW from three projects in Maine and New Hampshire; however, due to issues regarding three other wind farms, the deals still represent 156 MW less than what Massachusetts' utility companies had originally proposed last year.
LD 1750 gives a blank check to foreign and out-of-state industrial wind companies to build thousands of huge turbine towers across the middle and top half of Maine with limited environmental review. Southern Maine voters don’t want wind turbines there, so the Legislature is effectively arranging for hundreds of towers to be built in northern and central Maine where, under current law, residents won’t even get the chance to decide if they want these huge industrial zones or not.
"This does more for PR value for First Wind than it does anything else," says Chris O'Neil, who is with Friends of Maine's Mountains, which actively opposes the 62-turbine project in Bingham, Kingsbury Plantation and Mayfield Township. He says he's glad that the groups got something out of the agreement, but wonders why First Wind would offer anything at all, given that the groups presented no real challenge to the project.
As part of an agreement with the conservation groups, First Wind will donate $700,000 to land conservation and seek approval for lights that remain off unless triggered by approaching aircraft.
State officials under Republican Gov. Paul LePage say the Democratic-supported bill would prevent regulators from receiving information needed to weigh wind energy projects. And Patrick Woodcock, director of the governor’s energy office, spoke against the measure. He told the committee the proposed decision-making process ‘‘would continue to try to simply rubber stamp projects going forward without asking those questions about how can we help this project benefit the Maine people.’’
More than 100 supporters and opponents of what would be the state’s largest and most expensive wind project presented their views Wednesday night in a public hearing called by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. They spoke of noise and light pollution, quality-of-life issues, the economic benefits of wind power and the partnership of private land owners and business.
This hastily prepared assault was crafted by the industry with the clear intention of hijacking the public process, restraining regulators and punishing opposition. It’s a mirror image of how the industry secured their highly favorable 2008 Wind Act ...L.D. 1750’s arrival at the end of a short legislative session serves to stifle public debate and allows Alfond and his cronies to push through their fix with minimal public scrutiny.
An acoustics investigator is disputing a recently released report that indicated Beaver Ridge Wind in Freedom is operating at noise levels below the noise limit required of similar wind projects. Stephen Ambrose, of Windham, reported to the legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee that he felt the report, which was conducted by an independent third party, failed to take into account noise results from particularly windy days.
Hosting the meeting was Katherine Cassidy. Cassidy reminded the audience that the focus of the assembly was not targeted towards future wind power development in Maine. The urgent cause for the gathering was to recognize that the rights of certain citizens are being jeopardized. “It’s not about wind power. It’s about citizens rights,” said Cassidy.
According to the draft analysis, northern long-eared bats and little brown bats are listed as state species of special concern and are being considered for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. They are among the least common bats to be killed by wind turbines, but concern has risen because of the rise of white-nose.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will hold a public meeting 12 February to review the report on the developer’s permit application. DEP commissioner Patricia Aho will preside over the session and gather public comments.