Bills to give residents of Unorganized Territory more say in wind deals are dead

An anti-wind turbine sign greets visitors to Highland Plantation, part of the Unorganized Territory, in 2011. BDN file photo by Chris Cousins.

An anti-wind turbine sign greets visitors to Highland Plantation, part of the Unorganized Territory, in 2011. BDN file photo by Chris Cousins.

Two bills that would have given residents of Maine’s vast Unorganized Territory more say in wind development deals that would place tall turbines in their backyards suffered the most unceremonious of legislative fates of the past week — “death between the chambers.”

The 2008 Wind Energy Act made grid-scale wind farms a pre-approved development in about one-third of the UT, which was designated as an “expedited permitting area.” Since then, some residents of the Unorganized Territory have decried what they see as their lack of voice in the wind development process.

The two bills took different approaches toward the same goal. LD 616, sponsored by Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, would have provided a two-year window during which time residents of any plantation or township in the UT could petition the state to remove themselves from the expedited permitting area.

LD 1323, sponsored by Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, would simply have done away with the pre-approval for wind development, essentially turning the clock back to the previous permitting process, wherein the Land Use Planning Commission would need to approve a zoning change for any area in the UT where wind turbines were proposed — a process that would involve the input of local residents.

Proponents of the bills said they were a needed fix to an injustice done to the democratic process. Their adversaries said it was bad policy to let a handful of residents in the UT kill wind projects that could benefit all Mainers. They also pointed out that residents have the opportunity to weigh in on any wind project when it applies for a permit with the Department of Environmental Protection.

Hayes’ bill was approved by the House and rejected by the Senate, both of which insisted the other body accept their vote. That essentially condemned the bill to death in legislative limbo.

Dunphy’s bill was facing a similar fate, having also been approved by the House and rejected in the Senate. However, the bodies attempted to forge a compromise by sending the bill to a “Committee of Conference,” where three representatives and three senators were tasked with hammering out a deal.

The conference lasted only about a half-hour before it became clear that there would be no deal, said Rep. Ryan Tipping-Spitz, D-Orono, who was assigned to the committee.

“It’s been a very contentious issue,” Tipping-Spitz said Tuesday. “I think everyone in the room was working in the best interests of the people of Maine. Full agreement just wasn’t there.”

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.