Wednesday, August 02, 2006

For clean air, wind farm looks good

Blethen Papers
August 2, 2006

The view is admittedly one of the most breathtaking for hikers in Maine's western mountains. But Ed Miller, who wouldn't mind seeing 30 windmills sprout atop Redington Township, is more concerned about Mainers who already can't breathe.

"We're here to prevent lung disease and promote lung health," Miller, the head of the American Lung Association of Maine, said Tuesday. "We need to stop talking about green energy and start doing it."

If only Maine's environmental community agreed.

That's right. When the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission kicks off its three-day hearing today on Maine Mountain Power's proposed $130 million Redington Wind Farm, a bevy of environmental groups will be on record opposing the deal for two reasons.

One is that the project could make life uncomfortable for the Bicknell thrush, the northern bog lemming and a handful of other critters that now inhabit the site. The other is that 30 windmills would spoil the view (gasp) for hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

"This is one of those places where the scenic environment is of a completely undeveloped nature," said J.T. Horn of the Appalachian Trail Conference. "As you hike through there, you really can't see any permanent development at all."

But you can feel the near-constant wind. And that's why, with all due respect to the ATC, the Maine Audubon Society and other groups opposing the wind farm, it's time to take a deep breath and reset our environmental priorities. (While we're at it, we might take a poll on whether a clean, green wind farm truly constitutes an eyesore.)

Horn is right when he argues that the U-shaped section of trail that hooks around the wind-farm site would be forever altered by 30 windmills, each 256 feet tall with three 144-foot blades, rising from Redington Pond Range and nearby Black Nubble Mountain. And Maine Audubon is understandably concerned for animals, some of them rare if not endangered, living in the vicinity.

But from the American Lung Association of Maine's vantage point, the looming debate is about a lot more than a tiny slice of paradise and a handful of humans lucky enough to hike through it.

"This is not just a local issue," Miller said. "All Maine people have a stake in the Redington Wind Farm Project because all Maine people are affected by air pollution. Even if you do not have asthma or lung disease, chances are you know someone who does."

He's not just blowing smoke. According to Maine Mountain Power, the wind farm would remove 800,000 pounds of pollutants from the air each day - the same as leaving 26,000 cars parked in the driveway - and churn out enough electricity for 40,000 Maine homes.

What's more, Miller says, the Redington project should be only the beginning. If Maine and the rest of the country are serious about cooling down the planet and cleaning up the atmosphere, he said, we need to start putting our money where the wind is. And here in Maine, that means the mountains.

That's why Miller will be in those mountains today - the hearing at Sugarloaf USA will be only about four miles from the Redington site - attempting to broaden LURC's horizon.

"If we don't do anything within the next 10 years," he said, "the haze in that area will be so bad you wouldn't even see the windmills."

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

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