2010 Gubernatorial Race: Wind, nuclear and Maine's energy future

When U.S. gas prices in 2007 spiked to an all-time high, it was a bittersweet period for those arguing that the country needed a discussion about energy policy.

Tomorrow: The candidates' views on abortion.

On one hand, residents were incensed to pay $4 a gallon for gasoline, and almost as much for heating oil. On the other, proponents for alternative energy had a captive audience.

Today, the price of gas is lower than it was three years ago. However, the memory of 2007 lingers, as do some of the policies that were pushed into action.

That's especially true in Maine. In 2008, Gov. John Baldacci signed the Wind Energy Act of 2008, legislation that fast-tracked wind development, sometimes with controversial results.

Despite criticism about the hastened pace of wind development, Baldacci has also discussed other alternative energy possibilities, like offshore wind and tidal power, which he and some Democrats say will create green jobs, lower electricity rates and spur the state's economy.

Offshore oil drilling and nuclear power have also entered the debate.

In the meantime, Maine residents continue to pay the eighth highest electricity rates in the country, according to data collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Although there have been occasional dips in electricity rates since 2001, residents pay more now than they did then.

Republicans, Democrats and independents all seem to agree that high energy costs are hurting the state's economic growth. But they disagree about how to fix it.

Here's where this year's gubernatorial candidates stand.

Kevin Scott, 42, independent

Scott said he wasn't happy with the state's wind power initiative.

"Let's destroy our western mountains and ship the money out of state," he said. "Not on my watch."

Scott said he isn't completely opposed to wind power, but he said Mainers aren't getting the benefits.

Scott said the state needs to changes its relationship with ISO New England to make sure Maine doesn't pay a higher rate for electricity than it is shipping out of state.

Shawn Moody, 51, independent

Moody said that while the state's alternative energy future was exciting, he'd focus more on creating incentives for energy efficiency for homes and businesses.

"I think you need to look at everything," he said. "People in Maine embrace (alternative energy) and we have to deliver on it."

Moody said he supports the state's current energy initiatives, but said it should also look at retrofitting existing hydro dams to increase power production.

"My focus would be increasing low-cost delivery of energy," he said.

Although Moody thinks nuclear energy is "exciting," he wasn't sure Mainers will embrace it.

"I think Maine's environmental culture is really strong," he said. "I would challenge anyone who's in favor of nuclear power to take a pin and put it someplace on the map. Tell us where you're going to put it."

Moody was skeptical of offshore drilling.

"I think given the recent crisis in the Gulf, I think offshore drilling is off the table," he said.

Libby Mitchell, 70, Democrat

Mitchell doesn't support offshore drilling or nuclear power.

She does, however, support exploration of offshore wind.

"It's the equivalent of 40 nuclear power plants," she said. "It's clean, it's renewable, it's jobs for Maine people because we can also manufacture the blades."

Although other state's pursuit of offshore wind has become controversial, Mitchell said a wind project in the Gulf of Maine would likely cause less opposition because it wouldn't be seen by residents.

She acknowledged concerns over such a project's ecological effects, but said the state would evaluate that before moving forward.

She said tidal and biomass power should also be part of the state's energy portfolio.

As for the state's current wind initiative, she said the state should put more emphasis on siting.

"Here's an opportunity for Maine to lead New England in terms of green and global power that has jobs," she said. "I want the manufacturing piece to go with it. I don't want Maine to be a pass-through state."

Paul LePage, 61, Republican

LePage said he'd evaluate "every alternative" to make sure electricity rates are lower for energy.

However, some of the alternatives he would explore have sparked controversy.

LePage has previously said he'd consider offshore drilling in Maine, but he has amended that statement to say he'd only support such activity in shallow waters.

He also supports nuclear power.

"It's proven technology," he said, adding that the Maine Yankee plant was closed "way ahead of its time."

As for the state's current wind initiative, LePage has his doubts.

"I just don't think it's going to have a big payoff," he said. "You know, Denmark jumped on wind power big. I think they're regretting it."

"I'm not going to say yes or no just yet," he added. "I'm not smart enough on that to say yes or no. But I will say this: The Public Utilities Commission developed that whole thing and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of engineering going on."

John Jenkins, 58, independent

Jenkins said the state should consider all alternative energy sources, including nuclear

"I think it's something we should look at," Jenkins said. "Our valiant men and women serving in the Navy are living in intimate proximity to nuclear power. Well, if it's OK for them, it should be OK for the rest of us."

Jenkins rejected the idea of a single energy policy, adding that individual communities should decide their own fate.

"It shouldn't be one size fits all," he said.

Eliot Cutler, 64, independent

Cutler said high energy costs hurt Maine residents and businesses. He said the state should explore alternatives to lower that burden – but not offshore drilling.

"If anyone wants to drill for oil in the Gulf of Maine, they're going to have to drill through me," he said. "I think that's dumb. It's a dumb, dumb policy."

Cutler acknowledged the controversy surrounding the state's wind power initiative and encouraged a more thorough evaluation of each project.

"I don't think the law that we have is unfair," he said. "I just think it needs to be administered properly."

He said there are huge technical challenges for offshore wind, but said the potential resource was so great that it should at least be explored.

Cutler also said the state needed to pursue upgrades to its transmission lines so that renewable power could get to market.

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 's picture

Mitchell is just 4 more years of Baldacci

I don't know about anyone else but I don't want to continue the 8 miserable, failed Baldacci years by having Mitchell elected. She is in love with the wind industry just like Baldacci. This is from her website: "The legislature created pre-permitted sites for wind power that have dramatically decreased the permitting time. At Kibby Mountain, beautiful and graceful windmills are already working in what was already an industrial forest to produce enough electricity to supply all the homes in Franklin, Oxford, and Somerset counties combined!" It has since been taken down. Maybe she is starting to pay attention to the groundswell of citizen resistence to land based wind turbines? I doubt it, more that some advisor said not to be so openly supportive. Or maybe its because someone said "Gee Libby, ya'know the first year record of Kibby is kinda miserable at 17% of its capacity. Its only enough to light up one small town, not three counties, you dumb ass!"

 's picture

Mitchell a Hypocrite!

Mitchell said: "Although other state's pursuit of offshore wind has become controversial, Mitchell said a wind project in the Gulf of Maine would likely cause less opposition because it wouldn't be seen by residents."

OH REALLY?! Well, what about us poor slobs faced with hundreds upon hundreds of these HUGE, ugly things here in inland Maine? People like Mitchell are attacking OUR santuaries but apparently we don't count.

Go to hell, Libby Mitchell and any other candidate who thinks the wealthy oceanfront residents (and a whole lot of non-residents) deserve better than those of us who love our mountains, woods, lakes, and wildlife.


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