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Rural Mainers turn out in force to back bills that would change wind energy law

Robert Long — BDN Maine — March 28, 2013

AUGUSTA, Maine — People who live near wind farms and other opponents of expedited permitting for wind energy projects packed a legislative hearing room Thursday to testify in favor of three bills that aim to change parts of the Wind Energy Act of 2008.

The act, which won unanimous support from the 123rd Legislature amid aggressive advocacy from then-Gov. John Baldacci’s administration, helped developers fast-track wind energy projects that placed turbines on mountains in rural Maine, particularly the Unorganized Territory. But since 2008, people who own property near the turbines, others who question the economic benefits of wind energy, those who believe the act gives unfair advantage to wind developers and Mainers with concerns about environmental harm have sought to roll back what they characterize as “special rights” the 2008 act awarded to the wind industry.

Public hearings on the three bills stretched almost four hours Thursday as proponents urged the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee to support bills that they said would level the playing field, not drive wind energy out of Maine.

Opponents, including Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, argued that the 2008 law simply created a mechanism to provide wind energy developers with the same permitting and appeal process as other large energy projects under Public Utilities Commission jurisdiction.

Payne testified that the Wind Energy Act of 2008 was created as a recognition that the state’s existing regulatory framework wasn’t working for wind energy developments. He also told the committee that a logical extension of watering down the act would be to make it much harder to develop wind as an alternative energy option in Maine.

“This will push us back to the original regulatory framework,” which proved costly and cumbersome, he said.

Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, who sponsored one of the bills, LD 274, testified that her intent is “to return equal rights” to people who oppose wind energy projects. The bill proposes to remove exclusive jurisdiction over appeals of final action by the Board of Environmental Protection or the commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection from the Maine Law Court and allow aggrieved parties to file appeals in Superior Court.  Continue reading, here….

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