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Boston-based First Wind is pushing Maine utilities regulators to approve for a second time its multimillion-dollar partnership with Nova Scotia-based power company Emera, in a case that was sent back to the Maine Public Utilities Commission by a court order.
Public Advocate Timothy Schneider said the move was made after his office reviewed its previous position and decided that the deal would not undermine state utility regulation or threaten ratepayers with higher energy prices. “We have a mandate to protect ratepayers,” said Schneider.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has appealed a Kennebec County judge’s ruling that chastised Commissioner Patricia Aho for her role in responding to complaints by neighbors over noise from Vinalhaven wind turbines. “On behalf of DEP, the attorney general’s office has filed an appeal of the Superior Court’s decision in the Fox Islands Wind case,” DEP communications director Jessamine Logan said.
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.
A Maine Superior Court judge has found in favor of wind turbine neighbors (Fox Island Wind Neighbors) complaining about excessive noise from three nearby 1.5 megawatt GE wind turbines. This is believed to be the first court case where a state judge has found against a state agency charged with enforcement; the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The judge’s decision follows the key claim of the plaintiffs who proved that FIW (Fox Islands Wind) was not complying with the State’s noise limits and that the DEP failed to enforce against the turbine operator or to require compliance. An excerpt of the ruling is provided below. The full order can be accessed by clicking the links on this page.
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 Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Maine PUC erred in approving a merger between wind developer, First Wind, and the utility Emera which owns generation assets in the State. This order vacates the PUC ruling from three years ago. The order can be accessed by clicking the links on this page. A portion of the Court's order can be found below.
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.
Lannicelli said Friday that most residents were worried that they were powerless to stop the project. She said a recent outreach efforts by Maine Aqua Ventus had only heightened the panic among some people on Monhegan. She said many were concerned about the politics of the project and the influence of its potential benefactors.
Horton’s 12-page decision states the town ordinance requires pre-construction contour maps, which were waived by the planning board, and the maps are needed to determine other sound factors within the plan. “Pisgah’s admitted failure to submit any such maps means that its application should not have been approved,” the judge wrote.
As part of the wind project, 59 miles of transmission lines would run from the Oakfield area, through various towns, to a grid hook-up in Chester, in Penobscot County. "And they are crossing numerous water bodies," Williams says. "All those crossings require both temporary and permanent fill." Filling in those waterways, Williams argues, would harm water quality and endanger Atlantic salmon and Bald Eagles.
This draft decision prepared by the Staff for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection details why the Bowers Mountain Wind Park should be denied. The project consisted of 16 Vestas or Siemens 3.0 megawatt turbines (48 MWs in total). Following extensive hearings on the project the Department found the project would create an unreasonable adverse effect on the scenic character and existing uses related to scenic character in the area surrounding the project. The full draft order can be accessed by clicking on the links at the bottom of this page.
The Wind Energy Act doesn't treat every Maine citizen the same - some have more rights that others. ...Why are these communities treated differently? That's not possible to determine because the members of the wind task force that made a map designating the expedited permitting area kept no minutes of the meetings discussing the map.
Last year, Clifton set aside $25,000 for legal fees and overspent the account by more than $7,000, mostly for the town's involvement in a legal battle over the permitted, but on hold Pisgah Mountain wind farm. This year, town leaders are asking residents to put $15,000 in the legal services account.
"We are encouraged to see that the Court will not be a rubber stamp for DEP decisions on wind power. This is a decision that FMM finds helpful because the Court addresses the health and environmental impacts of wind power projects."