Wind power: Don't let backlash get in the way of a good thing

Misbehavior by insurance companies helped push national health care reform to passage. The brazenness of Wall Street investment banks is now doing the same for financial regulation.

Now, the disaster along the Gulf Coast -- already the largest oil spill since the wreck of the Exxon Valdez in 1989 -- may play a similar role is spurring completion of energy and climate-change legislation, including changes in national policy at least as vital as the first two.

And this is where Maine, and wind power, come into play.

It’s been a long time since Maine was a leader in any new industry, but it has managed to do so with wind. A state regulatory process that is clear, an administration that is committed and a public that was, at least initially, receptive, has led to the first large-scale installations in the East. Wind turbines have had an easier time in western states, which have a lot more space and, in some areas, a better resource.

While Maine companies have so far been involved mostly in planning and constructing wind projects, a manufacturing role in technology now dominated by Europe and China is not out of the question. These are the economic building blocks that help small states grow.

Lately, though, there has been a reaction which could develop into a backlash if not properly addressed.

After proceeding almost below the radar during the first half-dozen large projects, wind power is controversial in many Maine communities. Some towns have adopted moratoriums while others have enacted ordinances that arbitrarily bar wind towers within a mile of any residence.

Certain environmentalists have also been getting plenty of ink to charge that wind towers are “destroying” mountains while providing negligible benefit.

Some of the charges have a cartoonish quality to them, such as the repeated claim that wind-generated electricity has never replaced a fossil fuel plant.

The electricity grid is a large, complicated entity with multiple sources of generation and transmission. One power source is never going to “replace” another, but, over time, generating power from wind, sun, tides and possibly nuclear fission will allow us to shut down numerous coal and oil-burning plants.

That’s the whole idea behind the congressional energy bill which, however slowly and imperfectly, aims to shift us from carbon-based to less environmentally destructive forms of energy. Maine’s wind industry is a small part of this national scheme, but it would receive a major boost if this bill becomes law.

The idea that tax credits and stimulus grants make windpower uneconomic is even more flawed. Even today, the federal government subsidizes oil and natural gas drilling through the tax code, under the theory that investors won’t take the risk without the write-offs. Support for wind power is a lot more sensible use of federal dollars today, and has been true for many emerging industries, from railroads to aerospace.

Then there is the question of siting. Don’t build any more wind towers on land, goes the argument – build them out in the Gulf of Maine where no one can see them.

The trouble here is that offshore towers in deep water, while potentially a boon, are still theoretical. We know how to erect turbines on land, but deep ocean power is years away. By waiting, Maine would forfeit any advantage it has gained to date.

Not every site proposed for wind towers is a good one. Not every town or city where they’re proposed will want to have them. But much of the current protest movement seems remarkably uninformed about the real costs and benefits.

No one ever said that there would be no impact to building wind towers in Maine. The case is that these are reasonable and limited impacts, and that building wind generation is in the public interest, as well as the private interests that obviously benefit from their construction.

One hopes the public is ultimately well informed about the choices we are making. Oil spills and the destruction of whole mountaintops by strip-mining for coal are just some of the inevitable consequences of not pursuing alternatives.

It took nine years to gain last week’s federal approval of the Cape Wind project off Cape Cod, a campaign in which opponents of towers that would be barely visible from land made a caricature of environmentalism. Maine’s track record, so far, is much more encouraging.

But keeping it that way will require people speaking up whenever those who pretend that we don’t have to make choices about future energy use start amping up the rhetoric.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on SunJournal.com, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your SunJournal.com profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.

Advertisement

Comments

Karen  Pease's picture

Wind Power Backlash

It's obvious that the wind industry is getting nervous, and well they should.  The public is slowly but surely becoming educated on the realities of industrial wind.  With knowedge comes power... and the industry does NOT want the citizens of this state to retain or regain that power which was granted us when this country was founded.  If we assert our rights and say 'No!', then their multi-million dollar 'windfall' blows away on the breeze.

Mr. Rooks thinks Maine should 'lead the way'.  Well, sir, there is 'leadership', and there is 'going off half-cocked'.  Being a leader doesn't always mean one is FIRST.  A good leader is cautious, reasoned, and listens to the words of his advisors.  An exemplary leader learns from his mistakes and does not repeat them.  Just because a leader CAN storm a fort, doesn't always mean that he should.

We are lucky.  We have the experiences of many other countries which we can learn from.  When others who have been experimenting with industrial wind for two decades finally say, 'Enough!  No more wind!  No more government subsidies!  It isn't working, and until we can come up with a plan that PROVES it will, we aren't investing more money, aren't sacrificing more land, will not disrupt the lives of animals and people any longer!'  Enter... many of our European friends.

We can learn from their experiences, and we SHOULD.  We simply must not allow the government and the wind industry to push forward with their plans to desecrate more than 300 miles of Maine's mountaintops for a power source that is unreliable and intermittent, and which Maine does not need.  We must not allow the raping of our natural resources for a power source that we can not store, and which we do not currently have the capacity to transmit.  The recent approval of CMP's new infrastructure upgrade has 'wind' written all over it.  How many Mainers will now have those dangerous high voltage lines in their backyards?  We are already an energy exporter.  Why must we be the ones to sacrifice for another region's electric needs?

If ever there was a time to be a NIMBY... if ever there was a time to boldly stand up and say 'No!', this is it.  At the very best, this scheme has a life-span of 20-25 years.  The impacts to Mainers and to this land will be long-lasting.  Maybe permanent.  Mr. Rooks attempts to show that we who oppose mountaintop industrial wind are spoilsports, or selfish, or unreasonable.  But what are we, really?  We're brave.  Full of common sense.  Tired of being scammed and taken advatage of.  Tired of being lied to and taken for fools.

When Mr. Rooks and his wind industry friends can PROVE that the benefits of industrial wind outweigh the negative impacts, then perhaps I'll give his words credence.  But we don't need any more of his brand of legislation.  We've got enough of that, already.  If he wants to worry about laws, he ought ot take a look at some of the ones on the books concerning 'conflict of interest'.  There are many in this Big Wind game who are abusing those laws to the maximum extent.

For links to factual information about industrial wind, please visit www.highlandmts.org.

Respectfully submitted,

Karen Pease

William Downes's picture

Rooks is in Fantasyland

While I believe Mr. Rooks is well intentioned, he is poorly informed and badly misguided. Before he casts aspersions on windustry opponents he should do some homework on actual wind power performance.

 

Denmark has been trying to reduce its CO2 emissions for 30 years. In fact from 1980 thru 2009 they reduced CO2 in the electric generating industry by 35%. But 31% of the reduction occurred from 1980 thru 1985 before they even started adding wind power. The remaining 4% of the reduction in CO2 was due to replacement of numerous coal fired electric units with new natural gas fired CHP units over the following 25 years. And this is despite the fact that wind power as a percentage of total electric generating capacity has increased from 3% to 24.4% since 1990.

 

The problem that many of us wind power opponents have with wind power supporters is that the later never has any performance statistics to legitimize their viewpoint. Any numbers proffered are always qualified with “equivalent to”, “could”, “may”, or it “is presumed”. Maine’s Title 35-A establishes wind power in the state using the same language. Our policy makers shamefully never did their due diligence and fully vetted the actual merits of wind power. Like blind sheep they have moved forward because others have done the same.

 

Mr. Rooks’ economic arguments are also without substantiation. Wind power receives taxpayer subsidies over 10 times that of other traditional generating sources that provide reliable and dispatchable power. Wind power does neither. Add in all the new mandates to grow and support wind power and electric rates in constant dollars can be expected to double based upon the European experience over the past two decades.

 

Ideology, hypothetical constructs and conceptual estimates are great academic exercises but do not reflect practical reality. Dirigo insurance has been a classic example of what sounded like a great idea and failed. Maine screwed up royally in the 1980’s with the biomass mandates and the state is just now beginning to recover. Wind power opponents see wind power as a proven loser. There are certain current and former policy makers that see this has a golden opportunity to fleece the public. Caveat emptor Maine!

Lisa Lindsay's picture

Protecting our towns because the state won't do it for us

It's mother's day and I don't have a lot of time to pick apart this disgusting column. However, there is one statement that sums up what has happened here:

"After proceeding almost below the radar during the first half-dozen large projects, wind power is controversial in many Maine communities. Some towns have adopted moratoriums while others have enacted ordinances that arbitrarily bar wind towers within a mile of any residence."

The author is lamenting the days when these industrial projects slipped through unnoticed. The days of back-door deals with selectmen and land owners are OVER. We are adopting moratoriums and ordinances because the State of Maine and the wind thieves left us with no choice. Get used to it, Rooks. And if wind is such the boon that you say it is, if it is worth the sacrifice of Maine's unique and highly valued landscape, then you have nothing to worry about. Right?

I just hope what the Boston Herald said yesterday about Cape Wind costing as much as three times the original estimate isn't true. It just couldn't be. Could it?

Advertisement

Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...