Letter to the editor | The Ellsworth American | December 17, 2021
Piscataquis, Somerset and Aroostook counties are in danger of becoming the new Clean Energy Connect for solar and wind development. Irrespective of the developments themselves just how many miles of transmission lines, clear cuts, wildlife habitat will be destroyed, but more importantly the entire unique character of the North Maine Woods will be forever altered and lost for future generations.
It is quite one thing to have 15 Canadian sugar sap houses and hundreds of thousands of taps, miles and miles of collection lines on the Golden Road just 10 miles from the border. Let’s now add another swath of destruction and hundreds of miles of transmission lines. So, here we go again with RFPs (request for proposals) to the developers for a legislatively mandated transmission corridor, no different from CMP’s (NECEC) except for the corridors and substations to service multi hundreds of 600-foot windmills and 40,000-panel solar farms in the North Maine Woods.
This is where the political left and right should meet. Now with the apparent defeat of CMP’s high-voltage transmission line are we going to turn round and destroy Maines last great natural asset?
With the recent news of 85 percent increases in the supply side our monthly electrical bills, I’m beginning to wonder if any constituency (governmental, environmental, including the public) has a clue how disastrous these projects would be in comparison to the 145-mile CMP transmission line. Only corrupt politicians, crony capitalists, developers and soulless corporate contractors will line their pockets with the subsidies and tax benefits provided by the rest of us.
The root of all these failures goes back to at least 1998 when the Legislature, at the behest of Governor Angus King, forced the breakup up of our public utilities. The fix was in because the insiders of CMP and Bangor Hydro got rich when FPL, now Nextera, got CMP’s dams and Emera, now Versant (city of Calgary, Alberta) along with Brookfield, Canada, own Bangor Hydro’s dams.
Maine voters and ratepayers need to smarten up and pay attention to what has been done to them in the name of good governance.
Maybe we are headed for the trash heap of Democratic experiments, but for me I will keep speaking in defense of the republic until we turn it around or fail.
Conservation group stunned by proposal for wind facility on Sears Island
December 21, 2021
By Kate Cough | The Maine Monitor
The local nonprofit managing conserved land on Sears Island said it was blindsided by a proposal commissioned by the Mills administration to use part of the island as a hub to assemble massive floating wind turbines. The group wants the state to pursue an alternate location.
“It just felt like we should have known that Sears Island was one of the two places that they were focusing on. We didn’t have a clue,” said Susan White, president of Friends of Sears Island.
A consultant notified the group regarding the recommendation that part of the island be used for a commercial offshore wind facility a week before the document was set to be made public, said White.
The study, which has been underway for months, came out just before Thanksgiving. The Friends group also said it was not told the plans would be discussed at a public working group meeting Nov. 19, said White.
Paul Merrill, the Maine Department of Transportation director of communications, said in an email that “the Mills administration is committed to a robust and transparent public process regarding the Port of Searsport.”
Sears Island, which lies just south of the port of Searsport and is connected by a causeway, is owned by the state of Maine. A large portion of the island – 601 of its roughly 936 acres – is under conservation easement with Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Friends of Sears Island (FOSI) is the land management entity for the conserved land. The Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) maintains the parcel on the western side of the island where the facility would be built.
FOSI was first notified on Nov. 11, and the group’s leadership was briefed on Nov. 15 and 17, Merrill wrote. The study was released Nov. 23.
“MaineDOT is now organizing its public engagement and communication process regarding the Port of Searsport, which will include assembling a stakeholder advisory committee that includes the FOSI. That committee is expected to start meeting early next year,” according to Merrill.
Ciona Ulbrich, senior project manager with Maine Coast Heritage Trust, said the organization was not involved in the planning process but was given “a courtesy heads-up not long before the public announcement,” which she described as “fully appropriate.”
“It’s not a requirement that we be given lots of warning,” Ulbrich said, “but what will be important is for us to be involved in the planning and development from now on.”
Moffat & Nichol, the firm that conducted the state-commissioned study, considered several sites in addition to Sears Island, including Mack Point, which currently operates as a liquid and dry bulk cargo terminal. Mack Point is on the mainland, directly across from Sears Island. A press release in March 2020 announcing the commissioning of the report specified Mack Point but made no mention of Sears Island.
Board members and volunteers for Friends of Sears Island were shocked upon being told that while Mack Point was feasible, Sears Island had come back as the preferred site for the offshore wind proposal. The nonprofit isn’t against wind energy, said White, but is skeptical that the island, one of the largest bridged, undeveloped islands on the east coast, is the most appropriate place for the facility.
An industrial facility handling and assembling 800-foot-tall wind turbines would fundamentally change the experience of visitors, and disrupt the island’s ecology and wildlife, said White and the FOSI vice president, Rolf Olsen. Mack Point, they noted, already has industrial infrastructure.
Over the past few years, state agencies have invested in heavy bulk cargo handling equipment and upgrading rail infrastructure at the port facility in Searsport. It has already been used to bring in components for other land-based wind energy projects.
Big difference in costs
The U.S. Department Of Energy also has suggested using the Mack Point terminal as a possibility to fabricate the foundation and assemble the Aqua Ventus turbine, an 11-megawatt floating demonstration project that will eventually be deployed south of Monhegan and connected to the mainland by an underwater cable. That project, which would be the first floating offshore wind demonstration in North America, is in the permit stages.
“I continue to think Mack Point is a better alternative. It is more costly but it can be done there. It is feasible,” said Olsen. “It’s just more expensive.”
It would be quite a bit more expensive, according to a preliminary estimate drawn up by Moffat & Nichol. A two-phase facility on Mack Point capable of handling a full-scale, 1-gigawatt commercial project would cost $450.6 million to construct – or $166.7 million more than one on Sears Island.
Those buildout costs likely would be borne by “a combination of federal, state and private funds,” said Tony Ronzio, the Governor’s Energy Office spokesman, in an email, although it’s still too early to tell. Once built, it’s possible the facility would be owned by the state and leased to a company that would manage it and run operations.
While construction of any facility will be costly, there’s also a lot of money to be made by both state and commercial interests. With the recent announcement by the Biden administration of federal targets of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, the market is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.
The 11-megawatt Aqua Ventus turbine is expected to cost $100 million to build. A 1-gigawatt (1,000-megawatt) project consisting of several hundred turbines would cost around $4 billion, said Dr. Habib Dagher, a working group member and wind energy expert, during a meeting last month. Roughly $1 billion would go to making foundations, and another $500 million would be for putting them in the water. Those are areas Maine and developers could capitalize on.
But cost is not the only reason Sears Island was preferred.
Although buildout there would likely take longer – six years, compared to four years at Mack Point – the island has greater possibilities for expansion, lower remediation costs, better access to deep water, soils available for fill and fewer existing commercial infrastructure or utilities than Mack Point, according to Moffat & Nichol. Mack Point might also require dredging, a lengthy and controversial process, while Sears Island likely would not.
‘We’re going to lose a lot of visitors’
Communities in Maine and across the world are bumping up against the challenges of siting energy infrastructure in previously undeveloped and under-developed areas.
It’s too early to tell how a facility of this size on Sears Island would change the visitor experience, said Ulbrich of Maine Coast Heritage Trust. “It always depends on scale, location, details.”
“It is a challenging issue for us in trying to balance conservation, and the obvious needs around alternative energy and other pressures of climate change,” she added. “There’s no clear or perfect answer.”
The Moffat & Nichol report includes possible conservation “improvements,” such as an education center and parking lots on the conserved parcel. Although FOSI representatives had informal discussions with an MDOT liaison in the past about an education center, the group was not consulted or told it would be included in the study.
“We’re not convinced that’s something that should be done,” said Olsen. “A lot of people just want to keep that quadrant of the island preserved and completely undeveloped.”
White and Olsen argued that for Sears Island, the benefits of having an easily accessible island for public recreation free of commercial infrastructure outweigh the higher price tag of building at Mack Point. It also helps keep people and their impact away from areas that may be even more ecologically sensitive, such as bird nesting islands.
“I’ve tried to envision, you know, an actively used trail network and beach area, recreation area coexisting with an active port with trucks, big trucks running up and down the road and across the causeway,” said Olsen. “It’s been very difficult for me to envision that as a successful coexistence.”
FOSI has kept track of traffic to the island from early June and late August for the past three years. It counted 16,843 vehicles coming to the island this summer, a 19% increase since 2019, said Olsen, noting that visitors enjoy the island year-round.
“Nobody will want to walk around there with all of the noise, the industrial use,” White said. While the trails are not ADA-accessible, many residents enjoy walking on the paved road that runs down the middle of the island, which might no longer be possible with the proposed development, she said. “I think we’re going to lose a lot of visitors.”
State wants to move quickly
Plans for Sears Island are in the early stages, but state officials would like to move quickly, in part to give Maine an edge in the emerging floating offshore wind market.
During a meeting in early December, working group co-chair Matt Burns of MDOT said the intention is to begin preliminary design and further studies for facilities on Sears Island as soon as possible while simultaneously conducting stakeholder outreach. Ideally, he said, construction would start by 2024.
“I don’t know how realistic that is at this point,” said Burns. “This is going to be a really intense public process.”
Several working group members pointed out that the conservation process for Sears Island had been controversial and it was important to involve the public early on.
Some wondered about public awareness of the group’s deliberations until this point. The working group meetings, typically held biweekly on Friday mornings, are broadcast on Zoom but not recorded.
Public comment is taken at the meetings, but over several months there have been few commenters outside of those in the industry. A viewer who asked to record an early meeting was told the group preferred meetings not be recorded. Meeting summaries and materials are posted on the state’s website, as are agendas and sign-ups for future meetings. Meetings of the larger advisory group are recorded and posted on YouTube.
Neither White nor Olsen were aware of the working groups or the meetings until The Maine Monitor mentioned them.
“These people’s neighborhoods are going to take a lot of heavy trucks, there’s going to be a lot more activity in local areas and that might cause some fear,” said Grant Provost, business agent for Ironworkers Local 7, during the December meeting. “We just don’t want it to seem like it’s getting forced down the public’s throat.”
Burns said in the December meeting that there had been “several meetings with stakeholders already” and the working group was trying to be “as transparent as possible.”
MDOT representatives, including Commissioner Bruce Van Note, have met with the Searsport Select Board, and Town Manager James Gillway attended at least one working group meeting.
Representatives presented the plans to the select board at a Nov. 30 workshop. Although board workshops are open to the public and some are listed on the town website, the Nov. 30 workshop is not listed. Olsen was invited to the meeting and said select board members asked good questions, but no public comment was taken and FOSI was not given the chance to speak.
Continue reading at: https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2021/12/21/conservation-group-stunn...
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