Champlain Wind LLC lost a Dec. 3 decision from the Maine Supreme Court where it had appealed a decision of the state Board of Environmental Protection in which the board considered and balanced competing statutorily defined policies applicable to wind energy projects in Maine.
The applicable statutes establish the dual policies of expediting wind energy development in defined geographic areas of Maine and at the same time providing enhanced protection for specific scenic resources. Champlain had proposed its Bowers Wind Project to be situated within, but very near, the geographic border of the expedited permitting area. Within sight of the proposed wind turbines lie several scenic resources of state or national significance.
“On the record before us, we do not disturb the Board’s balancing of the Legislature’s policies, and we affirm the Board’s denial of a permit for the Project,” said the high court decision.
Both geographically and analytically, the Bowers Wind Project falls on the line between competing legislative purposes—expediting the development of wind power and protecting identified scenic resources. The project would place sixteen wind turbines, with a combined generating capacity of 48 MW, just within the boundary of the expedited permitting area, making them visible from multiple scenic resources of state or national significance.
Champlain filed a consolidated application with the Department of Environmental Protection in October 2012 seeking permits to construct the project in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township. Its turbines would be visible from nine great ponds, each of which is rated as outstanding or significant from a scenic perspective in the Maine Wildlands Lake Assessment and thus is classified as a scenic resource of state or national significance. Most of the area of the nine great ponds affected by the project is excluded from the expedited permitting area.
The Department ultimately denied Champlain’s application after evaluating data collected by both Champlain’s and the department’s experts concerning the scenic impact that the project would have on the affected great ponds, reviewing a user intercept survey, holding a public hearing, and conducting multiple site visits. The department concluded that the Project did not satisfy the statutory scenic standard because the project “would have an unreasonable adverse effect on the scenic character and existing uses related to the scenic character” of the nine affected great ponds. With the exception of the scenic standard, the department found that Champlain had met all of the permit criteria.
Champlain appealed from the department’s denial to the Board of Environmental Protection. In June 2014, the board issued an order affirming the department’s denial of Champlain’s permit application. Although the board did not specifically find that the project would have an unreasonable adverse effect on the scenic character or existing uses related to scenic character on any one of the affected great ponds, the board concluded that “the proposed project would unreasonably adversely affect scenic character and existing uses related to scenic character.”
Said the Dec. 3 Supreme Court decision: “Given the authority granted to the Board by the Legislature and the Board’s superior position for addressing the unique characteristics of each project when considering the effect of wind energy development on Maine’s scenic environment, we cannot conclude that the statutes compel a result contrary to that reached by the Board. Mindful of the unique circumstances before us, and of the legislatively defined interests at stake, we defer to the Board’s interpretation of the Maine Wind Energy Act and the statutes governing expedited permitting for grid-scale wind energy projects.”