PORTLAND, Maine — Wind power opponents near Moosehead Lake are worried that Massachusetts interests are going to despoil their landscape, 164 years after Bay Stater Henry David Thoreau trundled his famous nature-praising pen through Maine’s North Woods.
Massachusetts on Friday issued a massive request for clean power proposals that could help the state meet its goal of reducing its electrical system’s impact on global warming. By 2020, the state aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation to 25 percent below 1990 levels.
The long-expected solicitation has wind opponents in Maine again gearing up for a fight, as Maine is host to the vast majority of pending land-based wind power projects in New England.
A small part of that coming battle is playing out in Augusta, where perhaps unexpected alliances have formed between environmentalists, wind opponents and state tourism officials over a bill to increase restrictions on wind power development in designated scenic areas.
Wind power developers have testified against the bill that would require regulators to assess the visual impact of projects located within 15 miles of certain parts of the state, deemed “scenic resources of state or national significance.”
Environmental groups including the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Appalachian Trail Club testified in support of the move in March. Both said their position was based on experience gained since lawmakers passed the Maine Wind Energy Act of 2008.
Lester Kenway, president of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, said he discovered two years ago that the scenic impact of the Record Hill project in Roxbury extended farther than he thought.
“As I climbed above the tree-line on Baldpate Mountain on a clear June day, I was surprised to see so many large wind towers so close by,” Kenway wrote to lawmakers in March. “What had been portrayed in imagination and simulation was very different from reality.”
Kenway and NRCM made clear that they supported the bill as long as it was tailored to only add heightened review for particular scenic areas.
“The Maine Appalachian Trail Club is Pro-Appalachian Trail, not anti wind power,” Kenway added.
Richard McDonald, president of the nonprofit Saving Maine and a member of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee, said his group hopes to add vistas from Big Moose Mountain and Mount Kineo to the list. And there could be others. The bill is currently tabled.
That bill could add another tool for wind opposition groups, who in the past have used the environmental permitting process to bring project development to a crawl.
“Our job is to create a wall of resistance,” McDonald said Tuesday. “That would be our goal to really slow everything down and present every obstacle that we possibly can.”
Beyond that bill, McDonald said his group expects fights coming over Massachusetts’ request for an amount of clean power that equals about 80 percent of the annual electricity generated in Maine. The request seeks proposals for about 9.5 million megawatt-hours of new renewable power and the transmission projects required to deliver the electricity by 2020.
The request reignites concern wind opponents had around a previous clean power solicitation from southern New England, which had the potential to triple Maine’s wind power capacity. In the end, joint wind and transmission line projects lost out to Maine solar proposals.
McDonald said he’s concerned about the scenic impacts of turbines and those transmission projects, including a line from Chester to Pittsfield for which Emera Maine and Central Maine Power are buying up land.
The latest request seeks a mix of hydropower and wind generation, with interested parties including transmission developers CMP, Emera and Maine Power Express, wind developers NextEra Energy and EDP Renewables, hydro dam generator Brookfield Renewable Partners and Bay of Fundy tidal power developer Halcyon Tidal Power LLC. All provided comments to Massachusetts officials on the proposal process.
The request calls for bidders to submit their notices of intent to bid by April 21, with projects selected by Jan. 25, 2018. The projects would go up for approval by the state’s Department of Energy Resources in April 2018.