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.