Friday, October 16, 2009

Lawyer fighting wind power

Green candidate for governor supports alternative energy

By Nick Sambides Jr.
BDN Staff

Though Lynne Williams supports alternative energy production and doesn’t oppose the use of windmills to create it, she is fighting wind power in Maine just about every way she can.

A Bar Harbor attorney representing the Friends of Lincoln Lakes, Williams is pursuing two appeals of decisions that, if reaffirmed, would help clear the way for an industrial wind site on Rollins Mountain ridgelines in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.

As a Maine Green Independent Party candidate for governor in 2010, Williams called last month for Maine Attorney General Janet Mills to create a code of conduct for wind operators and a governmental committee to monitor compliance. Williams also wanted Mills to investigate whether wind companies in Maine had violated any ethics statutes.

Williams opposes a flawed and hurried process, not the concept of industrial wind power, she said.

“Unlike some attorneys, I never represent someone that has different values from me, so I agree 100 percent with my clients,” Williams said Thursday of Friends of Lincoln Lakes. “This issue is way too important for us to be rushing through it.”

She suggested Mills model Maine’s system on a similar, voluntary code established by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Under that code, wind companies are banned from hiring municipal employees or their relatives; refuse confidential information from municipal officers; post on their Web sites the names of all municipal officers who have financial stakes in their companies; and file all wind easements and leases with county clerks.

Williams’ proposal didn’t gain much traction with Mills. Kate Simmons, a spokeswoman with the Attorney General’s Office, says that Mills’ office is “not aware of any allegations of impropriety made against any wind power developers.”

“In order to create any code of ethics, the office would need to be directed by the appropriate regulatory body to do so,” Simmons said. “Maine already has many statutes regarding conflict of interest on the books to protect citizens from improprieties.”

A group of Lincoln-area landowners or leaseholders, the Friends group has appealed in Superior Court a Department of Environmental Protection permit for First Wind of Massachusetts to build 40 11/2-megawatt wind turbines on the ridgelines.

The group’s second court action protests the Lincoln Board of Appeals refusal to hear the group’s appeal of a permit the Lincoln Planning Board issued to the proposed $130 million wind farm. As of Thursday, both appeals were pending, Williams said.

The DEP appeal is the first in Maine of a permit granted for an industrial wind-to-energy site. The project lacks only an approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and financial backing that would pay for its construction, First Wind officials have said.

Proponents have praised First Wind as a conscientious creator of wind power, saying the Lincoln Lakes project would create as much as 60 megawatts of pollution-free electricity in peak winds.

The Friends group contends that the turbines will lower land values and threaten human and animal health with light flicker and low-decibel sound and vibrations, disrupt the pastoral nature of Rollins and generate a fraction of their capacity.

In its first hearing since 2005, the planning appeals board ruled 4-2 on Jan. 8 that the friends group had no right to appeal the planning board’s Dec. 1 decision approving First Wind’s project because the group was legally incorporated Dec. 31 but filed its appeal on Dec. 15. Group members called the town’s review process chaotic and deeply flawed.

Under its regulations, the board “decides whether the applicant has a right to appear before the Board,” the regulation states. With the group’s existence in question — and no group members’ names on the group’s incorporation papers — the board felt it had to reject hearing the group’s complaint, the panel’s chairman has said.

Williams argued that group members defined themselves adequately just by being there. Group members also were recognized at Town Council and planning and appeals board meetings, and in minutes and e-mails the appeals board had, Williams said.

Given that the judge reviewing the appeals board case recently issued a ruling on another Williams case that began when the Friends group first filed its appeal, Williams has hopes that the appeals board case ruling would be issued soon, she said. But that would mean only that the planning board permit appeal would go back to the appeals board or Superior Court, she said.

“It could be the middle of next year before everything is resolved,” Williams said. “Things are not moving quickly in any court. There’s a shortage of personnel and shortage of judges, and they can’t replace them because of the [state] hiring freeze.”

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