Maine's mountains are an economic treasure

In the 1970s and ’80s, there was a rush to dam all of the rivers in Maine when Federal Energy Regulatory Commission laws were eased to meet an energy crisis. What stopped that from happening? Something called the Maine Rivers Study.

Maine was the first state in the nation to survey its rivers and designate them in three classes. The rivers that were spared, the Dead, Kennebec and Penobscot, have become multimillion-dollar economic assets for Maine with large economic multipliers that ripple through rural and state economies, providing thousands of jobs.

It would have been a tragedy to destroy those assets.

The state is about to make that mistake with its mountains. Three hundred miles of the state’s ridge lines and wild mountain areas are being targeted to solve a perceived energy crisis in southern New England, but the expedited legislation pushed through by former Gov. John Baldacci was deeply flawed. Not one representative of Maine’s largest employment sector — tourism — was on the governor’s task force.

There was no discussion of the current mountain and wild land economies that support Maine’s rural areas. There was no Maine Mountain Study.

What is the economic value of a viewscape that tourists travel to from all over Maine, New England, the U.S. and the world to see and experience?

What will this multimillion-dollar value be when these same viewscapes are bristling with blades, dissected with industrial roads and transmission lines, and blinking with red aviation lights?

What will this value be when there are so few unspoiled landscapes left in this state?

Will Maine be positioned to be a world tourism leader and destination because it wisely assessed these viewsheds and their greater economic value and set them off limits to wind power and other transforming, fragmenting development?

Or will Maine’s economy be bankrupted by the rush to industrialize its most valuable assets?

The Maine Department of Tourism figures prove that tourism is by far Maine’s biggest economic engine. In 2009, 34 million tourists provided more than 170,000 full-time jobs, $535 million in tax revenues, and $10 billion in goods and services.

The Department of Environmental Protection permitting applications for industrial wind mandate proof of tangible benefits for the host community. What about all the other communities within a 30-mile radius that have to live with it, visually?

What about Mount Blue State Park, one of the state’s most scenic and popular recreation destinations? The proposed Saddleback Ridge project is right on Mount Blue’s doorstep.

Do the tangible benefits of all of Maine’s proposed industrial wind projects combined even come close to tourism’s figures?

Has the cumulative visual impact of these projects on 12,000 square miles of Maine’s scenic viewshed been evaluated from an economic perspective? And if not, why not?

The tangible benefits of tourism will last forever only if residents protect Maine’s iconic viewsheds from inappropriate development. The tangible benefits gained by host towns such as Carthage won’t be enough to decommission one single turbine in 20 years if Patriot Renewables declares bankruptcy prior to its 15th year of operation, which is a very real possibility when the federal subsidies dry up.

Furthermore, those two to three jobs created are hardly worth the enormous TIF package Patriot Renewables was granted by the town.

At a recent DEP meeting held in Dixfield to discuss the Saddleback Ridge project, only four people out of more than 100 spoke in favor, and all were making money from it.

Complaints were voiced by Patriot Renewables representatives about people from out of town attending this meeting and speaking against their project. Perhaps they are unaware that nearby Mount Blue State Park belongs to all Mainers, and that their proposed project will negatively impact many neighboring towns as well.

Industrial wind provides no benefits for the majority of Mainers, and even less for Maine’s mountains, waters and wildlife. Worse, it could very well destroy the tourism infrastructure rural natives count on for their very survival.

Penny R. Gray is a Maine master guide and co-owner of the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport. She lives in Carthage.

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Steve  Dosh's picture

Maine's mountains are an economic treasure

Penny, 5 pm HST • Tuesday
i dunno ' . So many people die mining coal ( maybe not in Maine ) , and West by God Virginia has been totally raped getting it out so we can power our lights and microwaves . If we were in ME we would probably focus our efforts on acid rain , deforestation , and the sterile lakes and ponds you have there on your western slopes . Yes , the wind blows in from West to East . Coal fired power plants spew it out in the Midwest . Wind vs. Nuclear ? Probably Wind [ this week ] ? Wind vs. Geothermal ? Geothermal ? ( it's free , also )
As a tourist we'd like to visit your many , modern windmills . Isn't the cat already out of the bag up they'ya ? Your thoughtful letter stikes some as a quixotic sort of " tilting at windmills . ..."
For many others turbines represent the future and not a past that never was anyway . Rural nostalgia doesn't appeal much to some during 2 0 1 1 . What we need is more progress and innovation . How about some modern water turbines on the St. John or the Androscoggin ? The ones in Auburn were installed in , yes , 1 9 2 1 . Technology doesn't really stop for any one , unfortunately . b t w - is in our backyard ( literally ) and we absolutely L o v e it . Aloha from Pahoa , Dr. Dosh and ohana :)

 's picture

If You Love Maine, Stop the Insanity

If you love Maine, we must stop the insanity of littering our beautiful landscape with miles and miles of industrial wind turbines. The proliferation of these sprawling industrial sites since an unknowing Legislature passed the Expedited Wind Permitting statute in the waning days of the legislature in April 2008 will destroy rural Maine. These machines are huge, ranging from 389 to 465 feet tall. The tallest building in Maine, Franklin Towers in Portland, is only 204 feet (16 stories). We blast away and level hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of mountains to install these behemoths on our ridgelines. Thousands of acres of uplands are clearcut for the turbine sites, access roads, and powerlines.

Many of us struggled to stay in Maine because we love the beauty and the natural resources that surround us. Others fell in love with Maine for the same reasons and chose to move here. We share this beauty and the vistas and the wildlife and the peace and tranquility and the dark, star-filled night sky with millions of visitors every year. They spend their money readily with us for the chance to share what we have that they don't have where they live. How foolhardy to throw this away on such a farce as wind power. Wind power does nothing for our state. We don't need any of the fickle trickle of electricity these notoriously unpredictable, unreliable, weather-reliant machines might provide. The myth of reducing carbon and greenhouse gases is over-sold and the destruction that comes with the wind sites has the horrendous impact of destroying our rural way of life and the tourism in inland Maine we have strived so hard to promote.

Gary Steinberg's picture

Just remember, the "Eyes" of Citizens Were Removed by LD-2283!

AND Tourists have eyes!
Visual Impact is considered IRRELEVANT under Expedited Wind Law. Thank yous go to Baldacci's "Governor's Task Force on Wind Power" . But remember this:

It is not really the Wind Power issue in Maine or” Green Jobs”, it is the “GREENBACK”, out of the citizens pockets, into vested special interests deceptive coffers. It is the scamming, self-serving subsidy sucking interests of wind scoundrels in the state versus the average citizen who has not been allowed a voice in the process by the quasi-legal legislated Expedited Wind Law. Its creators, with the scamming wind lobby are what has been in control to date.The Task Force even forgot to record important decision making sessions on site selection discussions ? Sure!
But , the public is waking up!
So are Maine businesses, as they know that their electrical costs will be doubling in the “Green Future” shortly if this scam is allowed to continue.
For every Green Job created, 2 to 3 others will be lost in affiliated industries that cannot be the subsidy piggies of the Green Promotion by Federal subsidization. It is a scam of epic proportion. Government picking of energy winners always turns out to be a loser for us all.

 's picture

A moratorium on wind power is needed

The hospitality and tourism industry has been strangely silent about the impending devastation to Maine's "Quality of Place" at the hands of the wind industry. Ms. Gray's thoughtful piece hopefully is the first cry in what will become a load roar from tourism dependent businesses throughout the state.

The Harraseekett Inn is one of the most prestigous hotels in the state, and was named one of the top 500 hotels in the world by Travel and Leisure magazine in 2010. When the Harraseekett Inn talks, the legislature should listen.

A bill calling for a moratorium on wind development has been proposed by Rep. Larry Dunfee. Putting the brakes on wind power in Maine's mountains until the impacts that were ignored by the former governor and his expedited wind law can be fully examined is the right thing to do. Please call you legislators and tell them to support the wind power moratorium bill.

Alan Michka's picture

Telling it like it is

Ms. Gray is right on every count. It seems little, or more likely, no thought, was given to the realistic benefits or the eventual fallout from turning Maine's landscape over to industrial wind power development interests.

Unfortunately, if Maine continues with its present policy on wind development, large swaths of Maine's high value, visitor generating landscape will be lost in less than a decade. It will be lost to a hasty rush of green euphoria and good old "pigs at the federal trough" greed in pursuit of the most politically correct - though largely ineffectual - of energy sources.

Most people don't seem to realize that over 2/3 of Maine's land has been designated for expedited permitting of industrial-scale wind power development. Expedited permitting is a code word for what is effectively rubber-stamp permitting of wind developments. The impact on Maine's tourism future, not to mention the futures of the thousands of people who will have to live next to these projects, could be profoundly negative.

It's time for Mainers, and especially the media, to dismount the wind bandwagon and become objective and thoughtful critics of what our state and its people are REALLY facing.

 's picture

Maine's Mountains

Thank you, Penny.

And thank you, Sun Journal, for printing such a thoughtful commentary.

And now... I would like to see the wind lobby and our legislators answer every one of the questions she posed.

Every single one.

Maine people deserve the same consideration which was given to the corporate wind lobby when the Governor's Task Force decided Maine's mountains were expendable.

In a December, 2010 LURC commissioners meeting, former Senator Peter Mills stated clearly to the commissioners that he and his colleagues in the 123rd legislature made the decision of “sacrificing our mountaintops” as a contribution to the “greater good.”

I find it hard not to resent that statement, and I take exception to the legislature deciding to sacrifice our natural resources, without input from the people who live here, for a 'greater good' which has not been proven.

So, it's simple.


Karen Pease
Lexington Twp., Maine

 's picture

tourism and survival

tourism, i heard the governorship say something about micro-tourism.
what does that mean?
Western Maine haS THE LEAST LIGHTS OF USA. LURC passed a decision to keep it that way.
If "green" is the buzzz word then think of the dollars to be made offering NO FOSSIL FUEL breaks in the city dwelllers life.
NO FOSSSIL FUEL means a battery storage (yes u can still flip a switch) and wood heat.
If the vacationers do not know how to keep a wood fire going, I will gladly check on them daily; for a fee.
Money cannot buy back our ground water once the WIND cracks it open.
Money cannot feed wildlife.
Money will go away and what is left? Survival in place.
Buy local, work local, don't drive.
Wood is replacing oil in Western Maine. Loggers are back in business.
Local, local, local.
The wrongness of wind as an energy source is driving me loco.


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