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Putting wind power in its place

Can Mainers promote renewable energy, protect natural resources and agree on sites for turbines? Yes -- but it would take some talking. We have a conflict today in Maine between renewable energy development and natural resource protection. Recent debates about several wind power proposals (Kibby, Reddington and Black Nubble mountains) have brought attention to differences between constituent groups. ...Does this mean every wind turbine proposed in adequate-wind areas should be permitted? No. Should most of them be? Perhaps, but today no one can reasonably make such a statement -- the threshold of ecological sensitivities has not been examined closely enough. The regulatory implications of a clear statement to this effect would obviously be enormous. Therefore, formulating the statement should occur only after a concerted consensus- building process among all groups in Maine with a stake in these issues.

Can Mainers promote renewable energy, protect natural resources and agree on sites for turbines? Yes -- but it would take some talking.

We have a conflict today in Maine between renewable energy development and natural resource protection. Recent debates about several wind power proposals (Kibby, Reddington and Black Nubble mountains) have brought attention to differences between constituent groups.

On one side are those who raise concerns about habitat fragmentation, roads, invasive species, aesthetic blight and the chance that birds and bats, in particular, could be killed. Many of their concerns are legitimate in that the resources at issue may well be adversely affected by the proposed turbines, especially in sensitive habitat areas.

On the other side are wind power advocates, many state and local officials and a combination of environmental groups that trumpet the need for additional renewable energy sources in Maine to combat global warming.

Unlike the first contingent of resource advocates, the second group has decided that the site-specific concerns about the effects on a particular species or habitat are less important than the larger-scale concerns about the Earth... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Can Mainers promote renewable energy, protect natural resources and agree on sites for turbines? Yes -- but it would take some talking.

We have a conflict today in Maine between renewable energy development and natural resource protection. Recent debates about several wind power proposals (Kibby, Reddington and Black Nubble mountains) have brought attention to differences between constituent groups.

On one side are those who raise concerns about habitat fragmentation, roads, invasive species, aesthetic blight and the chance that birds and bats, in particular, could be killed. Many of their concerns are legitimate in that the resources at issue may well be adversely affected by the proposed turbines, especially in sensitive habitat areas.

On the other side are wind power advocates, many state and local officials and a combination of environmental groups that trumpet the need for additional renewable energy sources in Maine to combat global warming.

Unlike the first contingent of resource advocates, the second group has decided that the site-specific concerns about the effects on a particular species or habitat are less important than the larger-scale concerns about the Earth itself.

They may advocate strongly for habitat protection in other contexts, but when it comes to wind permitting, they ask, "What good will it do to protect this habitat for a particular songbird if mean temperatures rise and the tree species required by this bird move north? We should instead embrace all efforts to reduce carbon emissions and install this wind turbine, even in
this sensitive habitat area."

The first group, in turn, invokes Vietnam and responds, "Yes, but it is illogical, ineffective and plain wrong to destroy something or its habitat in order to save it! Yes, wind power in Maine is needed, but it should be reserved for 'appropriate places.' "

'NO GO' MAPS COULD EASE PROCESS

This gulf has delayed several attempts to bring wind power to Maine and stands to stall many more -- or even entirely discourage wind power developers from initiating proposals unless consensus is reached about where new wind turbines may be sited.

The problem is that the "appropriate places" are yet to be defined. The most detailed geographic mapping to date is from the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (for a map, see Wind Powering America).

All involved in these discussions know that this map identifies two main regions as having high, utility-scale wind power potential: the offshore islands in bays and the Gulf of Maine, and the ridge crests in north-central and northwestern Maine.

What is needed is greater specificity within these regions about areas that will be off-limits to wind power development.

To achieve this, the contending groups need to develop a matrix of potential ecological impacts and reach a consensus about the threshold where local, site-specific concerns are so great that they ought to outweigh the larger-scale concerns of global climate change.

The product of such a process would be two new geographic data sets: one that shows the places all can agree will have no wind development, and one that shows the remainder of the Energy Department's coverage for the state of Maine -- which would then be made more readily available to potential wind power developers.

These products could serve wind power developers and environmental groups in the same way other "no go" maps have in the past -- such as with vernal pools, wetlands, and shorebird stopover sites. The key point is that permitting time would decrease dramatically because the majority of wrangling over whether a site is "appropriate" would already have occurred.

SOME CRITERIA HARD TO MEASURE

Time is of the essence. All studies that project power consumption in Maine suggest that significant new generation capacity would need to come on line each year from now through 2020, at least. At the current rate of megawatts of renewable energy permitted per year in Maine, unless such a consensus is reached in the near future, Mainers would, by default, rely on new fossil fuel generation to meet growing demand.

Given what we now know about the impacts of climate change, this should not be viewed as an acceptable alternative -- either by contending group or by anyone else.

Of course, such a process wouldn't be able to tackle all the details that would come up for any specific wind power proposal. The impact on aesthetics, for example, would probably continue to be outside the ability of any scoring matrix or other decision-making tool to quantify in a way that will streamline permitting. Similarly, noise may always be an issue for turbines proposed within anyone's earshot.

For these concerns, one has to simply hope we are in the midst of a cultural shift, whereby wind turbines will come to be viewed with the same sense of inspiration, security and identity that lighthouses along the New England coastline have always been. (They are, for example, symbols of safety, hope, strength and prosperity -- and even stand as insurance company logos.)

In our common cultural mind-set, wind turbines have the distinct potential to become similar beacons that represent local self-sufficiency, national security and effective environmental problem-solving. Perhaps someday soon, we'll even observe a new psychological force driving local land use decisions in
Maine: "turbine envy."

Personally, even with advanced degrees in conservation biology and years working with both local land use permitting issues and renewable energy efforts in the private sector, I am uncertain where the threshold should be. I lean toward what seems an obvious societal imperative -- that we must take all necessary steps to reduce carbon emissions lest unfathomable calamities descend.

PROCESS SHOULD CAST WIDE NET

Does this mean every wind turbine proposed in adequate-wind areas should be permitted? No. Should most of them be? Perhaps, but today no one can reasonably make such a statement -- the threshold of ecological sensitivities has not been examined closely enough.

The regulatory implications of a clear statement to this effect would obviously be enormous. Therefore, formulating the statement should occur only after a concerted consensus- building process among all groups in Maine with a stake in these issues.

There are models for this type of process in Maine, in our own recent experience.

Fifteen years ago, under then-Gov. John McKernan, Commissioner Dana Connors led the Maine Department of Transportation in a six-month facilitated public process involving no fewer than 60 organizations to develop guidelines that require early public involvement in transportation planning
and decisions.

While the rule-making process was contentious, by the time Connors hosted a series of statewide public meetings to present and discuss the results, there was universal acceptance of the product. Not a single person stood in opposition to the proposed rules. The culmination was the successful, uncontested implementation of Maine's landmark Sensible Transportation Policy Act.

Connors' action took courage and determination. His experience reminds us that when the stakes are high enough, we do have the ability to achieve consensus on complex issues.

Our inability to site wind turbines -- at this particular moment in history, when we know the consequences of inaction -- presents us with one of these rare opportunities.


Source: http://pressherald.mainetod...

JAN 6 2008
https://www.windaction.org/posts/12655-putting-wind-power-in-its-place
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