Atlantic Wind LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, is still considering a wind energy project in the Whiting and Trescott area and has entered into 24 lease and easement agreements with property owners in Trescott, Whiting, Cutler and Jonesboro. The lease agreements were signed in 2012 and 2013 and include 12 real property leases in Whiting, six real property leases in Trescott and one in Cutler. The easement agreements are four road and electrical transmission line easements in Whiting and one road and electrical transmission line easement in Jonesboro. Lease agreements for real property run from up to 33 to 36 years with two additional 10-year terms provisioned for renewal. The road and transmission line easement agreement terms are perpetual.
Iberdrola Renewables is the United States division of Iberdrola S.A., the fourth largest utility company in the world. Iberdrola Renewables is the second largest wind energy company in the U.S. Central Maine Power, which distributes electric energy service to over 600,000 customers in central and southern Maine, is owned by Iberdrola S.A.
The road and electrical transmission line easements granted by landowners to Atlantic Wind include the following terms: a 100' wide easement to be used for "a line or lines of towers, with such wires and cables ... for the transmission of electrical energy and communications signals ... and one or more substations or interconnection or switching facilities; an easement and right‑of‑way for ingress and egress to the company's improvements."
Atlantic Wind is still in the evaluation phase in Washington County, says Iberdrola Renewables spokesperson Paul Copleman. "Two new met [meteorological] towers have been added in addition to the two already up." Met towers have a roster of equipment that measures different components of wind such as speed, direction and temperature at various ground heights. "We're still studying the wind and are reasonably optimistic," Copleman adds, but he stresses that it is too soon to tell if the company will proceed with a wind power project in the area. The number of leases and easement agreements are standard procedure, he explains. "It doesn't convey that we have figured out a transmission path. We're looking at ways we could interconnect with the grid." He adds, "Nothing about it is definitive."
Permitting and public input
Should Atlantic Wind proceed with wind energy development, permitting would follow the standards prescribed by Maine law under the Wind Energy Act. For municipalities, wind development projects must conform to local ordinances and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rules. Those projects being developed in Unorganized Territories (UT) have no local zoning and fall under the jurisdiction of the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) and the DEP. However, in UTs that are in the expedited category, Copleman explains that there is no local zoning and a project would go before the DEP but not the LUPC. If the DEP denies an application, the applicant can appeal the denial with the Board of Environmental Protection.
Rep. Katherine Cassidy pointed out in her January 13 testimony to the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology on LD 616 that the Wind Energy Act passed in 2008 placed about one‑third of the state's UT communities into "expedited" large‑scale wind energy project status. She explained to a citizen's group gathering held in Trescott on February 1 that UT residents and landholders within expedited communities are at a disadvantage to the rest of the state because they no longer have the right to public hearings for large‑scale wind energy projects that used to take place during the rezoning process.
However, Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, says that a bill passed in 2013, LD 385, allows for public participation in the expedited UTs. He explains that if five or more interested people petition the DEP for a public hearing, the DEP is required to hold one.
LD 616, which is currently being considered by the legislature, would allow those UT communities to regain the right to public hearings within the rezoning process by allowing them to opt‑out of the expedited status. Payne says that his organization does not support the bill, but the association does acknowledge that "there ought to be a potential pathway for people to get their acreage out of the expedited status, but we don't support the idea of petitioning to get other people's land out."
The LD 616 initiative is not about wind energy, but rather about the public's right to due process, Cassidy explains. However, Iberdrola Renewables' position on the bill would suggest that the wind energy industry feels otherwise. Copleman says, "We are opposed to LD 616. Our view is that we choose project locations based on the expedited designations and thus LD 616 changes the rules of the game in midstream."
Alan Michka, a UT resident in Lexington Township who has been working with other concerned UT residents in support of LD 616, says that the bill is restoring a process that was lost as part of the Wind Energy Act of 2008. The public hearing process "was the only real place for community members to have the opportunity to go to a rezoning hearing to share their thoughts and opinions."
An additional bill before the legislature, LD 1750, An Act to Amend the Maine Administrative Procedure Act and Clarify Wind Energy Laws, further complicates the process for citizens interested in civic engagement. Gary Campbell, president of the nonprofit Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, says, "It seems the wind industry has a powerful friend in Augusta: Senate President Justin Alfond [of Cumberland]. He has just introduced emergency legislation in the form of a bill known as LD 1750. It appears to be a direct response to DEP having denied permits for the Passadumkeag and Bowers wind projects. Overall it denigrates DEP's value as a body of seasoned professionals with various specialties that has extensive experience in evaluating technical applications and protecting Maine's environment."
Michka says, of his initial impression of LD 1750, that it could chill public participation. The bill would require that every agency and licensing decision be based "on the best evidence available" including the testimony of "qualified experts" and "data gathered through objective and reliable means and testimony and other evidence supported by independent confirmation of reliability. If an agency's licensing decision is contrary to a conclusion of a qualified expert of the agency, the agency must identify with specificity the basis for rejecting the expert's conclusion." Michka says that the bill is restricting how the DEP makes decisions and that it hinders public participation because hiring experts to testify is an expensive proposition, something most communities or citizen groups cannot afford. However, Payne says he does not see how the bill would restrict public participation. "Whatever it [the testimony] is, I would want the decision based on the best evidence and not opinion." He adds, "There's no intent to limit public process."
Campbell doesn't agree. "If LD 1750 becomes law, it will immediately prevent consideration of any online surveys, intercept surveys not designed and conducted by third parties, public letter campaigns, petitions that have not been independently verified, etc. It will also force the agency to ignore public testimony, both provided orally and public comments provided in writing, on the grounds that they have not been independently confirmed as reliable."
As for LD 616, Cassidy said in her testimony, "At stake are more than 2,500 acres out of the 15,432 acres in private ownership in Trescott Township that have been put into long‑term leases."
Lease and easement agreements
The leases and easement agreements between Atlantic Wind LLC and property owners are a matter of public record, available at the Washington County Registry of Deeds office in Machias. The following property owners have entered long‑term lease agreements with Atlantic Wind: Trescott C DMG Enterprises of Pembroke, David G. Archer of Texas, William Baker Sleight of Milford, Gerald L. Collins of New Hampshire, Howard W. Jones Jr. and Patricia Jones of Lubec, Richard L. Jones of Florida, Jessica J. Jones‑Harmon of Lubec, Richard R. Jones of Vermont, Jodi Look of Lubec, Forrest D. Teer Jr. of Pennsylvania; Whiting C DMG Enterprises of Pembroke, Maochun Yu and Angela Yu of Maryland, John M. Sullivan and Tracy L. Sullivan of Massachusetts, Tristan H. Pangilinan and Mercedes S. Borromeo of Florida, Robert D. Exposito and Cheryl A. Pape of Connecticut, Leslie Miller Sr. and Mary‑Lou Miller of Connecticut, Elaine H. Sederlund of Scarborough, Kathleen N. Kelly of Rhode Island, Ben Chung Yan Luk and Susan Luk of Rhode Island, Lawrence P. Goetz and Susan L. Gray of Pennsylvania, Douglas B. Dickens Jr. and Anne Marie Dickens of Maryland, Royal J. Pacheco of Rhode Island; Cutler C DMG Enterprises of Pembroke.
The following property owners have signed agreements for road and electrical transmission line easements: Whiting C Royal J. Pacheco of Rhode Island, Darrel S. Slack and Cheryl K. Slack of Massachusetts, The Gerrity Family Limited Partnership of Massachusetts, The Kenney Family Trust of Florida; Jonesboro C James T. Cox Sr. and Joni A. Cox of Jonesboro.