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Critics Blast Maine's 'Expedited' Wind Permitting Process
06/18/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

The Maine House has given residents of the Unorganized Territories who live in an area designated for so-called "expedited wind permitting" some hope that they might be able to opt out. It's a right many say was taken away from them five years ago when the Legislature approved the expedited wind permitting area without any public input. Ever since then, residents of five communities have been trying to have their say in the process. And as Susan Sharon reports, they have even gotten the sympathy of lawmakers who say they now regret the 2008 vote.

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It may have the word "wind" in its title, but a bill to amend the expedited permitting area for wind energy development in the Unorganized Territories is not about wind power says Republican Rep. Larry Dunphy, of Emden. It's about rights.

"This is about peoples' rights, peoples' rights that were removed by this body in 2008, people who have no way to get out of these expedited areas," Dunphy said. "There's a method to get them in. There's a method to utilize the mountaintops, but there is absolutely no way to be removed from these expedited areas."

During a sometimes emotional debate on the floor Monday night, Dunphy said the right to have a say in how or if wind power is sited in their communities was taken away with a minimum amount of debate in the House and Senate, and with no input from the communities affected. He calls that a "horrible violation" that should be corrected.

Most members of the Legislature's Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee agree. Among the minority holdouts, however, is Democratic Rep., and co-chair of the committee, Barry Hobbins of Saco. "This is just a fancy way of repackaging what is really a moratorium on the wind industry for certain areas of the state," Hobbins said.

And Hobbins says creating a process to allow certain communities to opt out of the expedited wind permitting would send a damaging business signal to investors about whether Maine is truly open for business.

That's because the bill could stall wind development if a single petitioner gets a majority of voters to sign a petition in 60 days. He points out that the wind industry has invested more than a billion dollars in Maine over the past decade, and has created and retained an average of 240 jobs each year.

Hobbins says the communities of Lexington, Concord and Carrying Place Townships, and Highland and Pleasant Ridge Plantations, should have the right to opt out if they choose. But Hobbins supports more onerous criteria for opting out than the majority members of his committee - including the requirement that "any petition for removal must demonstrate issues or concerns that cannot be addressed unless an area is removed."

"If you are so in favor of this legislation, brothers and sisters, put a 480-foot windmill in your backyard and see how long you last!" said Democratic Rep. Brian Jones, of Freedom. Jones says the residents who have those windmills in their communities should have the right to say whether they want them or not.

At least two lawmakers who supported legislation creating the expedited wind permitting area in 2008 say they now regret that action. And Democratic Reps. Terry Hayes of Buckfield and Sheryl Briggs of Mexico apologized for leaving residents of the five communities without a voice in the process.

Briggs says she has to look at wind towers every day of her life now. "I really feel that it's important that we slow this process down, and we let all the peoples' voices be heard, and give them the respect that is so deserved," she said.

A majority of the Maine House agreed. The bill has now been sent to the Senate, where it's fate is uncertain.

Editor's note: It's unclear how long the petition process might take.  Some opponents of the bill suggest that could it be as long as 18 months.


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