Maine’s wind energy industry is making a positive difference in communities around the state. By supplying clean, renewable energy, wind farms are creating jobs, reducing pollution and improving the economy.
Despite hyperbolic media coverage, the truth of the matter is that Maine has created a thoughtful and thorough approach to hosting wind power.
Through an open and deliberative process — which included six months of public hearings and extensive public documentation of discussion — Maine developed a comprehensive, statewide approach to wind power developments.
The process includes extensive siting requirements, third-party review, and opportunities for public engagement and discussion.
And while opponents resort to name-calling and subjective assessments about the aesthetics of wind turbines, supporters of wind see the benefits of development firsthand in lower taxes, jobs, economic activity, student scholarships and significant investments in Maine.
In Lincoln, a 40-turbine First Wind project has had a tremendously positive benefit on the local economy.
Lincoln Tax Assessor Ruth Birtz, a lifelong resident of the community, described the impact during a recent legislative hearing: “During the construction phase, millions and millions of dollars were poured into the local economy. Contractors hired more workers. Stores and restaurants saw a huge increase in business. Even the local hair salon had to stay open longer hours to meet the demand.”
The good news, however, didn’t end when construction was complete: The Rollins project has provided Lincoln with the funds to make infrastructure improvements that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and the town was able to lower property taxes.
“Over the last decade, Maine’s thoughtful approach to wind power has resulted in laws and policies that foster responsible project siting and development. Because of these existing regulations, wind power can and does work in Maine,” Birtz said.
The story is similar in Oakfield, where the town took a proactive approach to a proposed wind project that based its review on sound science and balanced the role of the community with the interests of the project developer.
The town held more than 15 public meetings and has worked in partnership with the developer on implementing recommendations to improve the project.
“As a resident of Oakfield whose family has lived there for four generations, it is important to me that the town has economic opportunities to sustain itself and maintain a healthy community,” Taylor Locke, a member of the town’s board of selectmen said.
The Sunrise County Economic Council in Washington County sees investment from wind energy as one way to help create jobs and break the cycle of multi-generational poverty through innovative policies.
One program, in particular, has used Tax Increment Financing in the county’s unorganized territories to invest $666,000 in 22 projects, creating 36 full-time jobs. The investments leveraged more than $3.2 million in additional funds in just one year.
“The wind energy is as essential to Washington County’s economy as logging, fishing, tourism, aquaculture and agriculture,” Harold Clossey, the council’s executive director told lawmakers earlier this month.
And the story is similar from Aroostook County, where the Aroostook Partnership for Progress describes wind energy as a “key component” of a renewable energy strategy for Northern Maine that is creating jobs and supporting economic growth.
There is no question that some folks don’t like the look of wind turbines and others are annoyed by them.
But that is not a good enough reason to take away property owners’ rights to develop their land or to deny Maine the benefits of a growing industry that can reduce our state’s reliance on fossil fuels, cut pollution and reduce overall energy costs over the long-term.
Despite broad public support for wind power, some in Augusta have launched an unprecedented effort to “break wind,” with a consistent barrage of legislation meant to undermine the development of onshore and offshore projects.
As Portland attorney and law professor Orland Delogu testified before the Legislature earlier this month, bills introduced this year in Augusta “unfairly single out one industrial activity, wind energy development, and impose a costly and time consuming level of regulatory measures designed to slow and/or kill commercial wind projects in Maine.”
So far, the Legislature has stepped up its leadership and resisted the overreach and vendetta.
Sound public policy has given wind energy companies the confidence to invest in this state. They see host communities as partners and have made long-term, commitments to share the benefits of wind power.
Maine’s comprehensive policy is working and has created an economic lifeline for communities around the state. Wind power remains a bright spot in this state’s economic and environmental landscape.
Jeremy Payne is executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association in Augusta.