BETHEL — Harnessing wind power is only part of the effort to reduce Maine's dependence on oil, wind-power developer Angus King said Wednesday.
“Doing nothing is not the answer,” the former governor told 52 people at the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast forum at The Bethel Inn Resort. “It's a recipe for a real catastrophe.”
Of the energy used in Maine, 80 percent is gas and oil, King said, "not an ounce of which comes from within Maine, and that's dangerous.”
King said 70 percent of the homes in Maine are heated with oil. It's the highest percentage in the United States.
“We've built a whole infrastructure in this country — particularly in Maine — based on the premise of cheap oil,” he said.
Ten percent of the energy used in Maine is for electricity, 40 percent for heating and 50 percent for transportation, 99.9 percent of which is based on oil, he said.
“So when you talk about energy use and where we get our energy, you really have to talk about something other than electricity,” King said.
In 1970, a barrel of oil cost $3.39, he said. "A barrel, not a gallon,” he said.
The country built up an infrastructure of cars, trucks and buses, oil furnaces and oil burners based on the assumption that cheap oil would always be available, King said. "And that's not happening anymore."
Over the past 100 years, when a country's economic growth rises by 4 or 5 percent, its energy use rises by the same amount, King said. “So, when you read in the paper that China's economy grew last year by 9 percent, you should say, 'Uh-oh. That means their energy use went up by 9 percent.'”
“There's not enough oil on three planets to supply this level of energy to the rest of the world,” King said. “We have to find other ways to make it.”
He said, "It took millions of years to make all that oil. We're going to use it up in about 200, which, in terms of stewardship, I find kind of amazing.”
Eighty percent of Maine's energy comes from oil and zero percent of Maine's oil comes from Maine, he said. “So we're wholly dependent on a worldwide commodity we have no control over and no control over the price. For a problem of this magnitude, there is no no-impact solution."
Wind power is one such solution, he said, “But, it can never be a whole solution.”
Currently in Maine, King said, 195 wind turbines are either online and working or under construction.
He and business partner Rob Gardiner have 22 of those turbines in their Record Hill wind farm being built in Roxbury.
The 195 turbines, at 3 to 4 acres per turbine, he said, will produce 452 megawatts of capacity, which is enough to power 200,000 houses. In general, each turbine provides enough power for 1,000 houses, King said.
Projects range in size from 4.5 megawatts to Kibby's 132-megawatt farm in northern Franklin County.
The total investment is $946 million, of which $378 million is invested in Maine, he said. Each project has averaged about 240 jobs since 2003, using 300 Maine companies.
King gave an overview of the Roxbury wind project, addressing constant criticism from those who object to wind power.
“People talk about mountaintop destruction, but this isn't it,” he said, showing a slide of Virginia, where mountaintop removal mining is taking place.
“We don't want the mountain to be an inch shorter than it is.”
He said wind turbine blades spin about 4½ revolutions per minute and do make sound, but it isn't heard over long distances. He acknowledged that the wind industry initially underestimated sound values.
As for wildlife attrition rates, he said one bird per year per turbine has been killed in Maine.
“Your cat is more dangerous, and I'm not making that up,” he said, to laughter.
“(Wind is) a renewable resource that we have here in Maine. I've often wanted to dye the wind blue so people could see the huge river of energy flowing across the state.”