Two environmental groups are going head to head over the impact on wildlife and the future benefits of wind energy development in Maine.
Friends of Maine’s Mountains challenged Maine Audubon on Thursday to
retract a recent report that says wind energy is sometimes compatible
with wildlife, and to acknowledge funding it receives from the wind
Maine Audubon defended its report, “Wind Power
and Wildlife in Maine,” and questioned whether the leaders of Friends of
Maine’s Mountains fully understand its parameters and recommendations.
Audubon, a nonprofit based in Falmouth, released a report Dec. 4 saying
that the state has 1.1 million acres that are windy enough for power
generation, and that wind turbines could be developed on 84 percent of
that area with minimal impact on some wildlife and habitat resources.
of Maine’s Mountains questioned why Maine Audubon would endorse the
installation of more “bird-killing machines” based on a study that – in
its view – failed to throughly investigate the benefits of wind power
and its effects on migratory birds and other wildlife.
Audubon brand is a strong environmental brand,” said Richard McDonald, a
board member of Friends of Maine’s Mountains. “It’s like giving
wind-energy development the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”
of Maine’s Mountains is a Weld-based nonprofit that has opposed
wind-energy projects and advocates on behalf of natural resources,
reliable energy and affordable power.
Michelle Smith, Maine Audubon’s spokeswoman, said she was surprised
that Friends of Maine’s Mountains came out against the report, because
it recommends that “any land-based wind development in the mountainous
areas of northern and western Maine and along our coast be carefully
“We’re not advocating that wind turbines can be sited
anywhere,” Smith said. “The goal of this report is to start a dialogue
about where we can rightly site wind turbines in Maine that has the
least impact on wildlife and its habitat.”
Smith noted that state
officials have set a goal to have capacity to produce 3,000 megawatts
of land-based wind energy by 2030, which would require adding 600 wind
turbines to Maine’s landscape. The state now has 200 turbines.
ARGUING OVER REPORT FINDINGS
week, the U.S. Department of the Interior decided to extend the period
in which wind power companies are permitted to kill or injure bald or
golden eagles with wind turbines without penalty from five to 30 years.
decision was immediately controversial. Although bald eagles are no
longer listed as threatened or endangered, bald and golden eagles are
still protected species.
“Instead of balancing the need for
conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a
blank check,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National
On Thursday, Friends of Maine’s Mountains asked
Maine Audubon, which is independent from the national group, to
reconcile the recommendations in its wind energy report with its
advocacy for wildlife.
“I’m not sure where (Friends of Maine’s
Mountains) is going with that,” Smith responded. “We would never support
the killing of eagles.”
The friends group also concluded that
Maine Audubon’s report gives the wind power industry a “free pass” to
develop projects without regard for their impact on wildlife. The
group’s leaders urged Maine Audubon to re-evaluate its association with
wind energy companies.
Among Maine Audubon’s top corporate donors
is First Wind, a renewable-energy company that has developed and
operates 16 wind power projects in Maine, New York, Vermont, Utah,
Washington and Hawaii.
According to Maine Audubon’s website, the
Boston-based company is an Eagle-level donor, along with L.L. Bean and
Maine Magazine, each having contributed more than $10,000 this year.
Friends of Maine’s Mountains indicated that corporate donors that
gave at lower levels also benefit from Maine Audubon’s support for wind
power development, including Falcon-level ($5,000-plus) donor Reed &
Reed general contractors and Osprey-level ($2,500-plus) donor Central
Maine Power Co.
The friends group also said in a news release
Thursday that Maine Audubon’s report is “deficient in necessary
scientific rigor required to conclude that industrial wind turbines are
not detrimental to Maine’s wildlife and their habitats.”
group called on Rebecca Holberton, a professor of biology and ecology at
the University of Maine who saw a lack of reliable field study data and
collision-risk assessment in Maine Audubon’s report.
noted that the report is “replete with disclaimers” about the limits of
its findings, and questioned whether it should have been presented as a
valid guide for siting wind turbines.
NOT A COMPREHENSIVE ANALYSIS
Gallo, the wildlife biologist at Maine Audubon who wrote the report,
acknowledged that the study is based on existing data, such as wildlife
habitat maps. She said the report doesn’t eliminate the need for
site-by-site analysis of wind energy proposals, but it does balance
Maine Audubon’s concern for wildlife preservation and bird migration
patterns with a policy goal to stem climate change and end dependence on
“We knew this was going to happen,” Gallo said.
“This report wasn’t a comprehensive analysis of risks to wildlife. We
didn’t address whether turbines are good or bad. We support wind in
concept but not every wind development. And because of that, we often
get attacked from both pro-wind and anti-wind.”
Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, defended Maine Audubon’s report.
shameful (that Friends of Maine’s Mountains) continually try and stand
in the way of this clean, renewable power that is creating jobs, driving
investment and increasing tax revenues for municipalities, counties and
state government,” Payne said in a written statement.
Payne challenged the friends group to reveal its funding sources.
a volunteer organization with about 150 members and four board members
who do most of the work,” said McDonald, who is a real estate agent in
Kennebunk. “We rely on individual contributions. We have about $200 in
the bank right now.”