This coming Thursday February 4th, the Joint Energy and Utilities Committee will have an opportunity to protect Maine’s citizen’s from a continuation of the noise problems that have plagued people living near the first wind projects built in the state, most recently the project on Vinalhaven. The three turbines installed there were promised to be no louder than the background noise but they are proving to be very disruptive to the lives of a number of people living nearby. Similar situations have existed for more than two years at Mars Hill, where citizens have filed a public nuisance lawsuit against the town and wind company, and in Freedom.
Rep. Tom Savielo agreed to sponsor an amendment to LD 1680, a bill which makes minor changes to the expedited process wind law which was approved by unanimous vote of both houses only 15 days after it was introduced in April 2008. This bill was modeled after the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power, whose mandate was to remove the obstacles to wind power development in the state, or in other words, strip citizens of their right to object to the deployment of more than 1500 gigantic wind turbines on over 350 miles of Maine’s formerly cherished mountain ridges, which is what the goal of 2700 megawatts of wind power will require. Nowhere in the Task Force report, or in the law itself was this fact mentioned however, so the legislature had no idea of the magnitude of destruction of Maine’s landscape that was mandated by the “wind law” that most lawmakers voted for without even reading it.
This past Thursday at the committee hearing on this bill and its proposed amendment, Dr. Monique Aniel and Steve Thurston, co-chairs of the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power, Bob Weingarten from Friends of the Boundary Mountains, Jonathan Carter from Forest Ecology Network, Citizens’ Task Force members Cathy Mattson, Carolyn Dodge, and Ron Dube and lobbyist Chris O'Neil showed up to testify.
Jonathan Carter was the first of us to testify and he began by proposing to have everybody listen to a sound recording of the turbines at Vinalhaven. He was quickly challenged by temporary chair Bowman, who accused him of disrespecting the institution, saying that the amendment submitted by Representative Saviello was not germane to the bill, that this was a setup, that he was “one of them” and that he should know better, and that this was not the time or the place to discuss this issue. This harangue was followed by abusive remarks from committee members Fitts and Van Wie and ended with Mr. Carter’s public dressing down by the Co-chairman of the Committee Senator Hobbins who had returned from a brief absence. A gentleman to remember, however, is Rep. Herbert Adams who valiantly defended our right to speak and showed great interest in our comments.
For the citizens who had taken the day to travel to Augusta to speak to their government about a matter of pressing urgency involving serious public health issues related to sleep disturbance from poorly sited wind turbines, this display of animosity by our elected officials was astonishingly brazen and incredibly insulting. Nevertheless, each of us got up in front of the Committee and told them the truth, pleading with them to stop sacrificing innocent citizens for the benefit of the wind industry.
They will have the opportunity to deal with this issue at the work session on this bill on Thursday Feb 4th. It will be the only opportunity for the legislature to impose more restrictive noise regulations on a ravenous industry that is poised to overrun the state with turbines in the next two or three years, taking advantage of 30% rebates on construction costs that are temporarily available from federal stimulus funds. While we believe the massive subsidies for wind power are not warranted, the overriding concern is that future turbine projects in Maine do not torment people with noise.
The Energy and Utility Committee has the ability to help solve this problem by agreeing to Rep. Saviello’s amendment on noise, and voting it out of committee with a recommendation for passage by the legislature. On Thursday they will make their decision. The fate of thousands of Mainers lies in their hands. If they do nothing, wind projects will continue to be built too close to people’s homes. Permits will continue to be appealed, nuisance lawsuits will be filed, and the increasing frustration of a disenfranchised citizenry will continue to grow.