LUPC declines to expand expedited permitting area for wind power project

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Five of the wind power turbines located on Kibby Range in northern Franklin County.

[Editor’s Note: This post has been corrected, removing references that indicate that the Kibby Range is owned by NextEra. It is not.]

BANGOR – The Land Use Planning Commission voted against adding approximately 25,000 acres to the expedited permitting area for wind power in northern Franklin and Somerset County at its meeting Tuesday. The expansion would have helped facilitate the development of a 130-plus turbine project proposed by a renewable energy company.

NextEra Energy Resources LLC has proposed adding turbines and associated infrastructure to four townships: Chain of Ponds, Seven Ponds and Skinner Township, all in Franklin County, and T5 R6 BKP WKR in Somerset County. Roughly 71 turbines would be north of Route 27, clustered in the Skinner, Kibby and T5 townships, creating the “Moose Wind” project. Another approximately 62 turbines would be south of Route 27 in the Chain of Ponds, Seven Ponds and Alder Stream townships, forming the basis for the “Alder Stream Wind” project. Energy storage containers would be located adjacent to the collection substations.

Kibby and Alder Stream Township are already part of the expedited wind power area created in 2008. Projects in the demarcated area can submit an all-inclusive application to LUPC, dramatically simplifying the permitting process. Additionally, wind power development is automatically a permitted use within the areas, eliminating the need to rezone.

NextEra has been working on the project since late 2015, surveying bird migration patterns, establishing meteorological towers and repeatedly revising its plans due to feedback from resource agencies. The new turbines would produce approximately 460 megawatts, according to the company. In addition to the Moose Wind and Alder Stream Wind turbines, the project calls for the establishment of a generator lead line running through Jim Pond Township to connect to Alder Stream. The energy storage containers at the two sites would be capable of storing up to 100 megawatt hours of power.

Approximately 53 percent of NextEra’s project would fall within the existing expedited permitting area.

A map, submitted to the Land Use Planning Commission by NextEra Energy, which shows the proposed expansion of the wind power expedited permitting area. The existing Kibby Wind project turbines are the orange dots.

LUPC can be petitioned to add places to the expedited permitting area. The new places must meet three standards, including that they be a “logical geographic extension” of the existing expedited permitting area, that they meet the state’s goals for wind energy and that they be consistent with LUPC’s comprehensive land use plan. LUPC commissioners can either accept the petition and proceed to a public rule-making process or deny it.

In a draft letter denying the petition, one that LUPC Chief Planner Stacie Beyer said Wednesday had been approved by the commissioners Tuesday in Bangor, the LUPC staff indicated that NextEra’s proposed expansion area was not a logical geographic extension of the existing area. Ridgelines in Skinner and T5, for example, were wholly outside the existing area, the letter noted.

“Expansion of the expedited permitting area to capture the continuation of ridgelines across the existing expedited area boundary involves a logical geographic extension of the expedited permitting area,” the letter reads, “expansion of the expedited area to capture entirely new ridgelines does not.”

NextEra indicated in its petition that all of a specific bedrock foundation to be a logical geographic extension. The letter drafted by LUPC rejected that argument, however, indicating that individual ridgelines were themselves an “important geologic and geographic characteristic.”

The LUPC letter denying the petition also rejected NexEra’s argument that the new turbines would share an orientation and general location with the existing Kibby Wind project, and therefore represent a logical geographic extension of the expedited area. The Kibby project predated the creation of the expedited area, the letter reads, and the region was rezoned by the commission for that purpose. The expedited area was then drawn to meet the contours of the existing project, “as evidenced by the small inclusion within Skinner Township that mirrors the D-PD subdistrict.”

“Notably, the expedited area was not extended farther into this [Skinner] township,” the letter notes.

“In sum,” LUPC’s response concludes, “the Commission concluded the proposed expansion is not a logical geographic extension of the current expedited permitting area and decided to deny the Petition and not to initiate the rulemaking process.”

The decision does not mean an end to the NextEra project. The company could seek to rezone project areas outside of the expedited area for wind power development, a process similar to the one TransCanada went through with the Kibby Wind project. Alternately, as noted by the LUPC, the company could work through the state legislature to add the four townships to the expedited area.

[Editor’s Note: This post has been corrected, removing references that indicate that the Kibby Range is owned by NextEra. It is not.]

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