Denial probable for Kibby wind power expansion proposal
BANGOR - In a non-binding vote, state land use regulators unanimously indicated they would not support a proposal by TransCanada Maine Wind Development, Inc. to expand a wind power project in northern Franklin County at a meeting Wednesday.
After a lengthy discussion and straw poll vote, the Land Use Regulation Commission board instructed its staff to draft a denial to TransCanada's proposed 15-turbine, $100 million expansion to the Kibby Wind Power Project. A final vote is scheduled for Aug. 4.
As the two-year construction of the $320 million, 44-turbine project located on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range is set for completion this fall, TransCanada is seeking approval to erect another 15 Vestas V90 turbines on the 3,300-foot Sisk Mountain ridge line, located to the west and immediately adjacent to the Kibby project. The turbines would produce another 45 megawatts, utilize a new substation and 325 feet of transmission line to run the power through the Kibby project's infrastructure. Completion of the expansion was set for the summer of 2011.
According to LURC director Catherine Carroll, the commissioners voiced concerns over the adverse visual impact of the project's proposed location overlooking the Chain of Ponds and its potential detrimental impact to the Bicknell's thrush breeding area and sensitive sub-alpine habitat.
"They all reluctantly voted to deny the project, but its not necessarily going to be a unanimous final vote," Carroll said. Some of the commissioners "were on the fence," she said about the decision, expressing dismay over the loss of the local community's potential economic benefit of the project.
Commissioner Steve Schaefer of Grand Lake Stream, and others mentioned the economic benefit of the project would be lost. TransCanada's 44-turbine project on Kibby in construction over the past two years, has meant the influx of hundreds of jobs, an increase in local service industry benefits, additional tax revenue to the county and a $100,000 boost to be paid each year to Eustis, which uses the revenue to offset local tax increases.
But the overall concerns of commissioners of the visual and ecological impacts with the project's proposal seemed to outweigh the benefits, Carroll said. Commissioners indicated they had no problem with the eight turbines proposed along the northern half of the project, but the seven turbines along the southern portion end were enough to nix the entire project.
At a two-day public hearing held March 18 & 19 in Carrabassett Valley, representatives of Maine Audubon Society and Natural Resources Council of Maine argued in support of only half of the project's expansion but were opposed to the other seven sited in the southern string.
“... we support clean, renewable energy in general,” said Ted Koffman, executive director of Maine Audubon at the public hearing. “However, we cannot support the elements of TransCanada’s proposal that would threaten high-value habitat. Unique and uncommon natural features run right through the middle of this area, which also includes a rare, sub-alpine wildlife community and a large wetland habitat that sustains an animal on Maine’s threatened species list. Clearly, this isn’t an appropriate location for commercial wind power.”
If, in the likely event the LURC board majority does deny the proposal at the final vote, it will also be sending another message to projects proposed in so-called wind energy expedited areas.
TransCanada's 15-turbine expansion proposal on Sisk Mountain is located within the expedited permitting area set aside by the governor's Wind Power Task Force and passed into law in April 2008. As such, TransCanada needed only a LURC-issued construction permit, avoiding the often-lengthy rezoning process before the law was passed.
"It doesn't mean that just because all 15 wind turbines are in the expedited wind area it's a slam dunk," Carroll said.