AUGUSTA, Maine — Critics of wind power projects in rural New England on Wednesday praised Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s announcement that he will halt new wind turbine permits that he says could drive away tourists, while renewable energy advocates voiced concern.
LePage issued an executive order to halt such permits until a new wind energy advisory commission studies the impact on tourism.
“While out-of-state interests are eager to exploit our western mountains in order to serve their political agendas, we must act judiciously to protect our natural beauty,” LePage said. The governor — who has called wind turbines a “boutique energy source” — justified his move by claiming they have a negative impact on tourism, property values and avian migratory pathways.
In his executive order, LePage said that the benefit of wind turbines is “uncertain,” as is the cost of decommissioning them.
Maine has the greatest number of wind turbines in New England, but there are currently no pending applications for new projects. Department of Environmental Protection spokesman David Madore said the state will not issue a final decision on any new wind turbine permits until the commission issues its final report. LePage’s executive order did not include a due date for the commission’s findings and said the group’s meetings would be shielded from public meetings and records law.
LePage’s decision comes as Massachusetts is expected to announce finalists for new clean energy projects that could be located in or pass through Maine.
The Republican governor’s action is being praised by supporters who say Democrats’ years-old push to fast-track wind projects has hurt rural communities, said Lisa Linowes, executive director of the national WindAction Group.
“It’s been basically a fight for the residents to protect areas that have been so precious for tourism in the state,” Linowes said.
Maine has set ambitious renewable energy goals, while a number of wind projects have faced opposition by groups led by rural residents such as Moosehead Region Futures Committee board member Richard McDonald. “It’s been 10 years since the wind act’s been enacted,” he said. “Now is the time to step back.”
Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon said she’s confident that LePage’s executive order is in clear conflict with an existing statute and would be unable to withstand legal scrutiny if challenged.
Natural Resources Council of Maine clean energy director Dylan Voorhees said LePage is attacking renewable energy jobs while shielding his commission from the public.
Voorhees said he doubts the governor could unilaterally suspend new wind permits based on his own concerns, but said the matter must be scrutinized.
“Here’s the problem: spending a year in court to challenge it, the governor’s only going to be here for a year,” Voorhees said. Term limits prevent LePage from running again. “Whatever the final determination is, whether it’s legal or not, it’s unfortunately going to have a negative impact on Maine’s economy because it’s simply going to scare away investment.”