FALMOUTH — One of Maine’s top wildlife advocacy groups says there’s plenty of room in the state to accommodate animal habitat and wind energy development.
In a report released Wednesday night, Maine Audubon found that of the 1.1 million acres in the state where there’s enough wind to justify turbines, 933,000 acres don’t overlap with sensitive natural areas and could be developed with little impact to Maine’s wildlife.
About 45 percent, or 418,000 acres, of the space with both adequate wind and low wildlife impact is found in the state’s expedited permitting areas designated for wind projects, stated the report written by wildlife biologist Susan Gallo.
The study comes as wind energy continues to receive steady attention in Maine, with the Board of Environmental Protection on Thursday scheduled to hear an appeal of an approved wind farm slated for Hancock County and some lawmakers still upset over the recent decision by Norwegian energy giant Statoil to drop its offshore wind plans here.
Late last month, the organization Environment Maine issued its own report on wind energy, finding that Maine generated a New England-best 884,000 megawatt-hours of wind power in 2012, an amount that displaced nearly 535,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel plants.
Maine Audubon’s 34-page report on wind energy’s potential conflict with the state’s wildlife found that, for the most part, it doesn’t.
The organization stressed that each proposed development site be reviewed individually for possible impacts on bird and animal species, but that in a general sense, there is a lot of room in Maine for wind farms to be erected without intruding on sensitive habitats.
As a result, the report stressed, there should be no reason why wind development takes place where it significantly affects wildlife.
“We recommend that any land-based wind development in the mountainous areas of northern and western Maine and along our coast be carefully studied,” the report stated, in part. “These regions stand out as areas with a lot of wind and wildlife resource overlap.”
Given current technology, Maine Audubon reports that the state would need to see wind development on approximately 15 percent of the windy acreage that does not overlap with wildlife resources in order to meet state goals of reaching the 3,000-megawatt capacity of land-based wind energy by 2030.
That production would provide power for between 675,000 and 900,000 homes, and would entail the construction of 600 more wind turbines, the report concluded.
Opponents of the wind energy buildout in Maine, including the group Friends of Maine Mountains, have argued that the turbines blemish the state’s pristine mountain ranges and are not as effective as other renewable energy sources, such as hydropower.
Maine Audubon acknowledged the concerns of wind power opponents and stated its findings did not eliminate the need for site-by-site reviews that take those concerns into account.
“The location and siting of wind developments is a complex issue, and while there is a broad array of important concerns – impacts to the local economy, tourism, outdoor recreation, regional power supplies, local residents, and scenic views – Maine Audubon has always focused its concern on wildlife and habitat,” the report stated.
One of the 38 windmills on Stetson Mountain in Township 8 Range 3.