Maine gov. pushes back against wind energy bill

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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The LePage administration pushed back against a proposal Tuesday that supporters say would ensure the decision-making process on wind energy proposals in Maine clearly follows the law.

The bill, by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, would mean several changes for wind energy regulators, including requiring them in instances where their views differ from the hired experts to explain why.

Alfond said his measure would ensure wind regulators at the Department of Environment Protection aren’t using criteria not specified by law to unfairly reject a proposal.

“The DEP continues to use application instructions and policy statements regarding evidence to circumvent the process and impose their own will and judgments,” Alfond told the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “This has directly impacted wind-siting applications in a negative way.”

Maine is New England’s wind power leader with more than 500 megawatts of capacity, but the LePage administration has previously opposed wind energy because of the high cost and several wind project proposals have faced fierce opposition from communities that say the turbines will change the landscape and ruin the views and will endanger wildlife, particularly birds.

The state remains well short of its goal to have 2,000 megawatts of power by wind generation by 2015 and 3,000 megawatts by 2020, or enough energy to power about 900,000 homes.

Alfond’s bill also would prohibit the department from asking project applicants to submit information regarding energy and emission-related benefits.

Dan Riley, a lawyer representing the Maine Renewable Energy Association, which supports the bill, said energy and emission benefits of wind energy are to be presumed under the Maine Wind Energy Act and, therefore, applicants shouldn’t be required to prove them to get their projects approved.

But state officials under Republican Gov. Paul LePage say the Democratic-supported bill would prevent regulators from receiving information needed to weigh wind energy projects. And Patrick Woodcock, director of the governor’s energy office, spoke against the measure.

He told the committee the proposed decision-making process “would continue to try to simply rubber stamp projects going forward without asking those questions about how can we help this project benefit the Maine people.”

The committee is expected to vote on the bill within weeks.

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Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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