Steve Bennett: Money, not people, has the deciding influence in Augusta

Posted: May 28
Updated: Today at 12:26 AM

MAINE COMPASS: Freedom wind site neighbors 'not entitled to equal p...

Steve Bennett

Beaver Ridge Wind in Freedom is the only non-regulated industrial wind site in the state of Maine and the only one not approved by the Department of Environmental Protection.


In 2008, the DEP decided, I believe, that a three-turbine project in Freedom was too small to be concerned about. We tried many times to get the DEP and the state of Maine to do their jobs, but it seemed as if we were up against too much money and the influence that is gained by that money.

I continued trying to get someone at the state level to pay attention, however, and on a sunny September day last fall, I convinced Dr. Dora Mills, who at the time was director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, to visit Freedom.

Mills, along with Andrew Fisk of the DEP and John Piotti, our state representative at the time, came to listen to about 20 Beaver Hill neighbors talk about our experiences living with the noise from the turbines and the blade flicker that invades our homes.

Sitting on Jeff and Stacey Keating's front lawn about of 1,700 feet from the turbines, they also experienced the noise firsthand.

Before that visit, Mills had repeatedly been quoted by wind developers as saying that because no peer-reviewed reports regarding the ill effects of industrial wind exist, concerns about the health impact of noise from wind turbines were greatly exaggerated.

At this legislative session, Rep. Ryan Harmon, R-Palermo, at my request, submitted L.D. 711, which would have required the noise control rules within the Site Review Law be applied to Beaver Ridge Wind. These are the same noise rules that have been in effect in Maine for more than years, and the same noise rules that apply to every other wind site in Maine.

At least 20 people from Freedom and elsewhere in the state testified in favor of the bill at the hearing before the Energy Committee. Many others, including Mills, testified in writing. Her testimony, in part, reads:

"While I believe wind power adds an important and needed diversification of our energy resources, I feel that state noise regulations should be the statewide minimum for all wind power projects."

When she visited the site last fall, she said, several homes appeared to be within 1,700 feet of the turbines, and "from reported measurements and from the experience we had visiting there, it appeared the state noise standards, as set by Maine DEP regulations, are often exceeded." Because of the project's small footprint and lack of a municipal ordinance, " a simple building permit was all that was required of the wind project developers."

Mills said she had "visited other wind project sites that are in compliance with state regulations" and studied the issue. She said, "I believe all wind projects, no matter how large or small their footprint is, should be in compliance with the minimum standards as set by state DEP regulations. I believe L.D. 711 tries to address this issue. I also hope that the Beaver Ridge project can be included retroactively."

I thought, given the testimony, that L.D. 711 had a chance. But then Beaver Ridge Wind requested a behind closed-door meeting, first with a member of the administration and then with the co-chairman of the Energy Committee. Pressure apparently was applied, and L.D. 711 was the first of the committee's wind measures that was killed.

So, once again, we are told that the people in the Beaver Ridge neighborhood are not entitled to equal protection. Once again, it's apparent to me that money, not people, has the deciding influence in Augusta.

Steve Bennett of Freedom is a retired teacher. He owns an insurance and financial services business "Freedom Financial Group" in Unity. At one time or another, he has been a town selectman and a member of the town's budget committee and planning board.

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Maine Center For Public Interest Reporting – Three Part Series: A CRITICAL LOOK AT MAINE’S WIND ACT


(excerpts) From Part 1 – On Maine’s Wind Law “Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine if the law’s goals were met." . – Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, August 2010 Part 2 – On Wind and Oil Yet using wind energy doesn’t lower dependence on imported foreign oil. That’s because the majority of imported oil in Maine is used for heating and transportation. And switching our dependence from foreign oil to Maine-produced electricity isn’t likely to happen very soon, says Bartlett. “Right now, people can’t switch to electric cars and heating – if they did, we’d be in trouble.” So was one of the fundamental premises of the task force false, or at least misleading?" Part 3 – On Wind-Required New Transmission Lines Finally, the building of enormous, high-voltage transmission lines that the regional electricity system operator says are required to move substantial amounts of wind power to markets south of Maine was never even discussed by the task force – an omission that Mills said will come to haunt the state.“If you try to put 2,500 or 3,000 megawatts in northern or eastern Maine – oh, my god, try to build the transmission!” said Mills. “It’s not just the towers, it’s the lines – that’s when I begin to think that the goal is a little farfetched.”

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Hannah Pingree on the Maine expedited wind law

Hannah Pingree - Director of Maine's Office of Innovation and the Future

"Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine."

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