AUGUSTA, Maine — Six years after the state fast-tracked the process to build grid-scale wind turbines in large swaths of Maine’s Unorganized Territory, the Senate on Thursday showed it had no intention of pumping the brakes.
In two 21-14 votes, Democrat-led majorities rejected two bills aimed at giving residents of the vast, sparsely populated Unorganized Territory, or UT, further input into the development of wind turbines in their communities.
The votes sets up a fight between the Senate and House, which has already approved both bills. If neither concurs with the other body, both bills will die between the chambers.
Before the Wind Act was approved in 2008, wind developers had two hurdles to jump before they could break ground on projects in the Unorganized Territory. First, the location had to be zoned for planned development by the Land Use Regulation Commission — now known as the Land Use Planning Commission. Second, they must have their permit application approved by the Department of Environmental Protection.
The Wind Act made grid-scale wind an “approved use” in about one-third of the Unorganized Territory, effectively removing that first hurdle. Since then, some residents of the UT have criticized the act, saying it stripped them of a say in the process.
The first bill rejected by the Senate — LD 1323, sponsored by Rep. Teresea Hayes, D-Buckfield — would have reinstituted the zoning process that was in effect before the Wind Act was passed.
The second — LD 616, sponsored by Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden — would have opened a two-year window during which residents of any township or plantation in the expedited area of the UT could petition the state to take their community out of the expedited zone.
As it had been in the House, the arguments from both sides of the debate appealed to the higher values of lawmakers. Opponents of the measures, exemplified by Sen. John Cleveland, D-Auburn, said it was about ensuring wind energy can easily be developed in the areas of the state where the breeze blows the strongest, many of which are in the Unorganized Territory.
“Ultimately, I needed to decide what is the best policy for everyone in the state, even though I know there are some citizens in the state who would not share my view,” Cleveland said.
Proponents of the bills, including Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, said it was about the rights of UT residents to have a say in what happens near their homes.
“We start getting into messy territory when we say the rights of the many outweigh the rights of the few, just because of where they live in the state,” he said.
There are currently 10 operational, grid-scale wind farms in the state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.