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Maine high court upholds state’s wind farm permit law

Rejects challenge by friends group

By Clarke Canfield
Associated Press / March 12, 2010

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PORTLAND, Maine — The state’s highest court yesterday upheld a law that aims to hasten the permit process for wind farms in the state.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously rejected arguments from the Friends of Lincoln Lakes nonprofit group, which challenged the Department of Environmental Protection’s approval of a 40-turbine wind power project on Rollins Mountain in Penobscot County.

The group contended that regulators moved too quickly and failed to fully consider the impact the project would have on people and wildlife. Evergreen Wind Power III LLC, a subsidiary of First Wind, is proposing to build a 60-megawatt wind farm with turbines that are 389 feet high.

Friends of Lincoln Lakes further claimed that Maine’s Wind Power Act is unconstitutional because it streamlines the permitting and appeals process for wind power projects in specified areas of the state. The law is part of the state’s long-term strategy to install more than 2,000 megawatts of wind capacity by 2015 and 3,000 megawatts by 2020.

But justices ruled that the law’s provisions are “rationally related to a legitimate state interest’’ and don’t violate the US or Maine Constitution.

“Though not required to do so, the Legislature has articulated a legitimate state interest in facilitating the rapid development of alternative, renewable energy sources,’’ Justice Donald Alexander wrote in the 19-page decision.

Lynne Williams, a Bar Harbor attorney who represented Friends of Lincoln Lakes, could not be reached for comment.

Sean Mahoney, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, said that while the law has accelerated the permitting process, it has not lessened the level of scrutiny to which wind farm applicants are subjected. The foundation joined the lawsuit in support of the law.

“Our argument was that the state has a legitimate interest in developing renewable energy resources in order to address economic issues, as far as cost of heating and the cost of electricity, and address environmental issues, primarily climate change issues.’’ he said.