December 28, 2013

Monhegan residents voice concerns over proposed offshore wind project

Residents worry about noise and visual impacts, as well as effects on lobstering.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

For example, Ward said, some people believe the test site could become the location of a full-scale project. He said that is unlikely because a large commercial project would probably be in federal waters, farther from the island.

Nonetheless, some residents said the proposed project is much bigger than they anticipated when the waters off Monhegan were designated as a test site in 2009. Lannicelli said islanders were either supportive or indifferent then because they were told it would be a smaller-scale project that wouldn’t generate electricity.

Ward acknowledged that a smaller, prototype turbine that’s now anchored in Castine Harbor was originally destined for the Monhegan site. That unit, launched in June, is 65 feet tall.

Development delays forced researchers to change the location for the prototype from Monhegan to Castine, Ward said.

He said visual and sound modeling is under way for the larger turbines proposed for Monhegan as part of the competition for a federal grant.

“We want a project that is compatible with Monhegan while also trying to address whether these turbines can become part of grid-scale wind energy in the Gulf of Maine,” Ward said. “It really is something that, hopefully, at least the year-round folks see an opportunity and a value from.”

Advocates of the project say it would create as many as 341 jobs and trigger at least $120 million in investment, with half of it going to Maine-based companies.

Momentum grew for Maine Aqua Ventus after a competing project by the Norwegian company Statoil was scuttled amid political wrangling over an omnibus energy bill passed by the Legislature this year. Statoil had PUC approval for a project off Boothbay Harbor but withdrew after Gov. Paul LePage insisted that the UMaine proposal get a second chance to bid for the test project.

Lawmakers acceded to the governor’s demand to avoid a veto of the broader energy bill.

The LePage administration commented briefly on Maine Aqua Ventus to the PUC last week. Patrick Woodcock, the governor’s energy director, said in written comments that the proposal would likely increase electricity rates but put Maine in a strong position to get major research investments from the federal government.

FREE FOR SOME, COSTS FOR OTHERS

Timothy Schneider, LePage’s appointee to the Public Advocate’s Office, took no position on the project, but he was critical of the federal Ocean Energy Act, the project’s impact on ratepayers and a plan to provide some free electricity from the turbines to Monhegan.

Schneider wrote that free electricity could be read as an “implicit acknowledgment” that the “presence of offshore wind turbines imposes a hardship on residents of Monhegan that must be offset.” He said it could also set a precedent for future projects.

The proposal being considered by the PUC would add a small charge for 20 years to Central Maine Power Co. bills. An average residential customer would pay an additional 73 cents a month at the start, $8.70 in the first year.

Lannicelli, the island task force member, said Friday that most residents fear that they are powerless to stop the project. She said recent outreach efforts by Maine Aqua Ventus have only heightened concerns about the politics of the project.

“I think when you’re small, you have a realistic perception of how powerless you can be in a situation like this,” she said.

Lannicelli said islanders want to support wind power, but they worry about how it would affect an island that has become a spiritual and environmental haven for artists, tourists, bird watchers and residents.

“You wonder if you want to live in a world that’s more balanced for your children and your grandchildren if you’re going to have to give up something that’s precious to you,” she said.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

 

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