Friday, July 13, 2007

Wind power project backers boast organizational support

Kennebec Journal
Alan Crowell
July 11, 2007

PORTLAND -- Backers of the Black Nubble wind power project pointed to a diverse array of groups supporting the plan as evidence it deserves to be approved.

At a press conference Tuesday, the Natural Resources Council of Maine released a list of over 20 organizations, including faith-based groups and those that advocate for health issues, that support the Black Nubble wind power project.

The project calls for 18 wind turbines on Black Nubble Mountain in western Maine.

"I think this is a very significant day in the development of wind power in Maine," Pete Didisheim, advocacy director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said Tuesday. Didisheim said the varied group of supporters indicates the project strikes the right balance between preserving special places and increasing renewable energy.

The list includes the Conservation Law Foundation, Maine Center for Economic Policy, American Lung Association of Maine, Maine Council of Churches and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

Supporters say that underscores the growing acceptance of wind power as a source of clean energy that can lessen reliance on fossil fuels. Several of the groups cited the threat of climate change as part of their rationale for supporting the project.

Not everybody supports the project, however.

Maine Audubon, one of the state's largest environmental groups, said Tuesday it would oppose the project at Land Use Regulation Commission hearings to be held in September.

Jody Jones, a wildlife ecologist for Maine Audubon, said that while her organization supports wind power on mountains, Black Nubble is simply the wrong site.

"We should not throw up 18 turbines as a symbol toward battling global warming," said Jones.

Maine Audubon was one of many environmental groups that last year opposed the Redington wind power project, which called for erecting 12 turbines on Redington Pond Range and 18 turbines on Black Nubble Mountain.

The Land Use Regulation Commission rejected the Redington project in January by a 6-1 vote.

The environmental impact on sensitive habitat on Redington Pond Range and the scenic impact -- the closest turbine on Redington would have been only a mile from the Appalachian Trail -- were among the most controversial aspects of that project.

Last month, however, the commission agreed to consider an amended project that featured only the 18-turbine Black Nubble project.

The developer, Maine Mountain Power, said that because Black Nubble is less ecologically sensitive and further from the Appalachian Trail, the amended 54-megawatt project would offer most of the benefits of the previous plan while lessening potential environmental effects.

If the Black Nubble project is approved, Maine Mountain Power says it will forever protect the top of Redington from future wind power development.

Pete Didisheim, of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the proposed $110 million project strikes the right balance.

Redington Pond Range, the last unprotected, undeveloped mountain in the state, would be protected under the plan, he said. Black Nubble, at about 3,500 feet, offers less valuable habitat, he said.

"Black Nubble is no Redington. It is a lower elevation. It is further from the Appalachian Trail and much, much more harvested," said Didisheim. He said most of the proposed turbine locations on Black Nubble have been harvested in the past ten years.

Didisheim said support for the project reflects grassroots support for wind power.

"I believe that Maine people ... understand that global warming is a real threat and our current forms of power generation, including from oil and coal, are causing too much harm," said Didisheim.

Jones, of Maine Audubon, said, however, that the Black Nubble project is not a good plan.

"There is a divide in the environmental community," said Jones.

Jones said that while there is a general desire to site wind power projects in Maine and while her own organization supports wind power -- Maine Audubon endorsed the proposed TransCanada wind power project on Kibby Mountain in Franklin County -- Black Nubble is simply not a good site.

Black Nubble is part of one of Maine's premier mountain regions and features habitat for rare and declining plant and animal communities as well as scenic values, said Jones.

To truck the wind turbines up the mountain and anchor them to the ridge, Maine Mountain Power will essentially have to blast the top off the mountain, forever changing its character and values, she said.

"I think Maine and New England have many better options ... (Black Nubble) is too rare and too special to destroy with a badly sited wind power project," said Jones.

Organizations outside the environmental community focused largely on wind power positives.

Edward Miller, chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of Maine, said concern about the health impacts of burning fossil fuels is behind the group's support of Black Nubble.

"We are looking at the whole fight for healthy air as really the third major campaign in our 100-year history," said Miller. Combating tuberculosis and tobacco use were the first two.

Miller said his organization was one of the few groups, and perhaps the only public health organization, to go on record supporting the Redington wind power project.

Science is finding out more and more about the negative health effects of even low levels of pollution, he said.

"The challenge for us going forward is: How do we develop energy systems and transportation systems that benefit our health?" said Miller.

Andy Burt, director of the environmental justice program of the Maine Council of Churches, said her organization supports Black Nubble because of concerns about climate change.

The council represents mainstream Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Diocese, said Burt.

She said her organization considers climate change one of the greatest moral issues in the world today.

"It really is a moral choice to change how we decide to generate and to use electricity," she said. "I think it is very much in keeping with teachings which are really at the heart of every faith tradition."

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Burt said, the first commandment that was given to Adam and Eve was to take care of the garden.

"We actually are destroying the very systems that sustain life," she said.

Alan Crowell -- 474-9534, Ext. 342

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