Unorganized territory (UT) residents in Maine have set their sights on legislators' positions on a bill coming up for a vote that if passed would restore their right to public hearings through a rezoning process for large‑scale wind energy developments. A group of concerned residents joined together in Edmunds on February 23 for a third meeting to discuss LD 616, An Act to Amend the Expedited Permitting Area for Wind Energy Development under the Jurisdiction of the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC). Currently Atlantic Wind, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, has entered into 24 property lease or easement agreements in Cutler, Jonesboro, Trescott and Whiting. Iberdrola Renewables has stated its opposition to LD 616, as has the Maine Renewable Energy Association.
LD 616 may be up for vote very soon, said meeting participants in the know, Rep. Beth Turner, Rep. Katherine Cassidy and Senator David Burns. All three support the bill but acknowledge that a strong citizen effort needs to be under way to reach Democrats, who opposed the bill in 2013. Cassidy explained that many Democrats think the bill is against wind energy development. She also thought this was the case until she learned more and realized that it was about citizen rights and the public input process. Burns agrees. "We need to separate the two issues," he said.
"The fight is in the Senate," Burns told the more than 30 people at the meeting. "There is some strong influence. You need to get enough votes there." In addition, he said, residents should be contacting the governor's office and voicing their support of the bill. "There are a lot of people in the UTs. There are only 35 of us [in the Senate]," he added. The Senate is comprised of 19 Democrats, 15 Republicans and one unenrolled. The bill will be voted on in the House then the Senate. "There is urgency," Cassidy said. "Starting this week, message legislators." She added, "There is work to be done to educate Democrats."
The bill came to the attention of the county's UT residents in early February when Cassidy held an educational session at the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott. The Wind Energy Act of 2008 implemented the creation of "expedited" UTs where the LUPC was removed as one of the two oversight agents for planning and development projects. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the other. With the removal of the LUPC as a part of the rezoning development process, residents living in expedited UTs lost their ability to participate in public hearings held by LUPC. LD 616 seeks to address this loss of right by allowing expedited UTs to go through a stepped process to remove themselves from the expedited category. "Hopefully, everyone is against taking away the right to speak," said Burns. And that is the strategy to be used, he recommended to the group. "Make a call to the senators. Have them call you back. Let them explain to you why they don't want you to have a voice."
The group disseminated a handout of steps to use to contact legislators that is available to the public by calling Mike Smith at 733‑2917 or Heidi Herzberger at 733‑4688. To leave a message for a legislator, the group suggested calling 800‑423‑2900 for a representative and 800‑423‑6900 for a senator.
A second bill on the radar
At the meeting, Rep. Turner drew the group's attention to a second bill, LD 1750, An Act to Amend the Maine Administrative Procedure Act and Clarify Wind Energy Laws. The bill "needs to be on your radar," she said. "In my view there is a direct correlation to LD 616, which would restore your voices to you." She explained that the public hearing for LD 1750 was held the week of February 17 and the work session will be held soon. "It's a very, very dangerous bill. If it were to pass, I hope and pray that the governor would veto it, and I suspect that the Republicans would uphold the veto."
The bill is sponsored by Senate President Justin Alfond and 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."
Nisha Swinton, New England coordinator for Food and Water Watch, testified in opposition to the bill at the February 18 public hearing and said, "State agencies should have to give full consideration to the opinions and conclusions of the people who will be directly affected and who will live with the consequences of the agency's decisions." She explained that people might not have doctorate degrees or other "qualified expert" credentials but that those who are directly affected by agency decisions matter and should be heard.
Written testimony on the bill from 27 people is on file from the public hearing. While the testimony was heavily weighted to those whose interests lie with wind energy development, because the bill applies to all state agencies testimony was also heard from those not involved in wind energy.
"LD 1750 is an attack on Maine consumers' rights to be heard during state agency decisions. Consumer input and testimony are essential to many agency decisions," Swinton said. She added that the bill would "privilege the conclusions and testimonies of industry‑hired experts over those of common Mainers. ... At its core, this proposal is elitist and undemocratic."
Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho stated, "The bill, simply put, places a stop on all work at DEP, whether it is related to wind power projects or not." She added that the DEP assumed that the bill's intent was "not to halt all environmental work or the work of all state agencies" because "shutting down all work at the department [DEP] and all other state agencies isn't the outcome any wish for."
Aho was joined by a number of private citizens and organizations who voiced their opposition to the bill, including Legal Services for the Elderly, Maine Professional Guides Association, Defending Water for Life Maine, Partnership for the Preservation of Downeast Lakes Watershed and many more.
In support of the bill was Patriot Renewables Chief Operating Officer Todd Presson, who stated that the bill "provides guidance for regulators and predictability to the permitting process for wind energy in Maine. The proposed changes clarify and underscore the original purpose of the Wind Energy Act, which was to reduce regulatory uncertainty in order to encourage development of appropriately sited wind energy projects." Presson was joined in the same arguments for the bill by the Maine Renewable Energy Association, EDP Renewables, Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Associated General Contractors of Maine and Cianbro.
Patrick Woodcock, the director of the Governor's Energy Office, stated his office's opposition because of a complex section related to energy and emissions‑related benefits defined in section five of the bill, the only part of the bill exclusively about wind energy. It "would specifically prohibit the DEP from requesting Maine energy and emissions‑related benefits from a proposed wind project. ... When a multi‑million dollar project is proposed to use Maine's wind resource to meet the objectives of a neighboring state, it is not pro‑wind or anti‑wind to ask what the specific benefits will be for Maine."
The legislature's Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will hold a workshop on the bill in the near future. Information on the bill, public testimony, committee status and calendars noting specific committee and bill workshops and public hearings may be found at the website <www.mainelegislature.org>.