Jobs, what jobs?

Maine’s job picture is dismal. Unemployment has been stuck at 7.5 percent for a year, and while that’s lower than the national rate of 9.0 percent, other states have shown improving numbers while Maine has not.

Even more to the point, jobs were supposed to grow in this, the first year of Paul LePage’s administration, dedicated first and foremost to cutting government and boosting the private sector.

Last January, six economists, ranging from the Maine Center for Economic Policy on the left to the Maine Heritage Policy Center on the right, were asked to project job growth for 2011. They predicted between 6,000 and 20,000 net new jobs.

The actual number of net new jobs this year? Zero.

Nor does the future look much better. The New England Economic Partnership just issued a report predicting weaker job growth in Maine than any other New England state. By 2015, Vermont should have an unemployment rate of 4.2%, while Maine’s is projected at 7.3%, which would then be higher than the national average.

Given these numbers, you’d expect LePage to embrace any and all private sector job prospects, but he hasn’t. He’s developed an odd and unsettling bias against “green” jobs, beginning with the wind turbines that have produced Maine’s one undeniable recent success story in industrial development.

Typical of LePage’s approach was his comment, at a community forum in Rockport in June, that wind turbines “are doing an awful lot of damage to our quality of life, our mountains.” What the “damage” was he didn’t say.

But a governor’s words have consequences. Last year, the Land Use Regulation Commission voted 6-1 to approve TransCanada’s expansion of its Kibby Mountain windfarm onto neighboring Sisk Mountain, even though the contested string of turbines fell outside the “expedited permitting” zone created by 2008 legislation – and extended upward into the alpine zone and endangered bird habitat.

In November, LURC, now including several LePage appointees, voted to deny First Wind’s Bowers Mountain project in Washington County – even though the project was completely within the expedited permitting zone. Bowers is the last leg of a series of already approved windfarms in the area, with two on Stetson Mountain and one on Rollins Mountain, all within the industrial forest.

The only criteria Bowers didn’t meet, according to LURC, involves an eight-mile “scenic impact” zone for a resource of “statewide significance” -- a perhaps hopelessly vague standard that could thwart projects all across Maine, whenever a hiker, landowner or Maine Guide objects.

Maine is poised, thanks to research and development at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center in Orono, to become a leader in offshore wind development, something that at last glance LePage said he could support.

Yet the Legislature has denied consideration of a bill that could buttress Maine’s competitive edge. The Legislative Council last week denied an appeal by Rep. Jon Hinck (D-Portland) to create an offshore renewable energy certificate program that would offer tax credits. Hinck points out that federal tax credits apply only to land-based wind, and said he modeled his bill on one signed by New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie. But the council turned him down, with only Senate President Kevin Raye in favor among six Republicans.

No idea is too small for the administration to dismiss. Maine is the only one among 11 Northeastern states refusing to sign on for a pilot project grant that could create common standards for electric car recharging.

Electric cars, considered highly feasible as long as recharging stations are developed to expand their range, could eventually free us from our transportation system’s petroleum addiction. As proponents point out, electricity can be produced by many renewable methods, including wind, solar, hydro, and tides.

Supporters wrote to Patricia Aho, commissioner of Environmental Protection, on Oct. 25 to find out why the administration said no. One signer, the House chair of the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Stacy Fitts, R-Pittsfield, said that, while the project is in a preliminary stage, it makes sense to get aboard.

Not doing so, he said, could repeat the Maine Turnpike Authority’s experience with electronic tolling. Maine picked the Transpass system all on its own – but everyone else picked EZ Pass, which Maine had to convert to after Transpass ceased operations. But to date, Aho hasn’t responded to the letter or a followup phone call.

“I’d rather be part of the beginning of the conversation than come in late,” Fitts observed.

But late is apparently where we’ll be. For Paul LePage, when it comes to private sector jobs, not all are created equal.

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Comments

 's picture

Douglas Rooks: Writing without researching, first...

I was disturbed by the venom spewed by Mr. Rooks regarding the LePage Administration. Surely he doesn’t believe an economy which has been corrupted and broken for decades can be repaired in ten short months?

Rooks said: “(Y)ou’d expect LePage to embrace any and all private sector job prospects, but he hasn’t. He’s developed an odd and unsettling bias against “green” jobs, beginning with the wind turbines that have produced Maine’s one undeniable recent success story in industrial development.”

The corporate wind lobby couldn’t have said it better. Such rhetoric is straight from the wind industry’s playbook. These “private sector jobs” Rooks speaks of are supported by public money and only exist because of it. Our hard-earned dollars are being spent to subsidize an industry which admits it cannot stand on its own. “Success story”? By what standards? Every single wind development in Maine has faced serious opposition at the outset, or has become embroiled in litigation once the project went online.

Perhaps the Governor recognizes that it is not economically feasible to encourage an industry that cannot support itself and isn’t competitive. Perhaps he understands that lowering the cost of electricity is one of the most helpful initiatives in our repertoire if we want to entice businesses to Maine which CAN stand on their own two feet. Maybe he even believes that science and economics should drive our energy policy, and not politics or corporate pressure. I encourage Mr. Rooks to ASK Governor LePage these questions instead of assuming he can read his mind.

There were sufficient assumptions and false conclusions in Mr. Rooks’ column to warrant scrutiny. Mr. Rooks--while sounding as if he’s got the inside track on this issue—didn’t do his homework before spouting the wind lobby’s vitriol.

As one of many examples; Rooks stated “In November, LURC, now including several LePage appointees, voted to deny First Wind’s Bowers Mountain project in Washington County – even though the project was completely within the expedited permitting zone. Bowers is the last leg of a series of already approved windfarms in the area, with two on Stetson Mountain and one on Rollins Mountain, all within the industrial forest.

Print space doesn’t allow me to address every misleading or downright incorrect word in these sentences but I’ll point out a couple.

LURC did not vote to deny First Wind’s Bowers Mountain project in November. In October, LURC Commissioners took a straw vote, directing staff to draw up a ‘deny’ decision document to be presented for a vote at their upcoming December 7th meeting. And incidentally, the Bowers project straddles Washington AND Piscatiaquis Counties.

Mr. Rooks implied that the reason LURC ‘voted to deny’ was due to the fact that the Commission “now includ(ed) several LePage appointees”. How incredibly misleading. The fact is that the only member to express an inclination to approve the Bowers project was Commissioner Hammond—the solitary LePage appointee included in that straw vote! The other two LePage appointees who came on board this autumn showed great integrity. Commissioner Dunphy recused himself, stating he didn’t feel he should vote when he hadn’t been a part of the process prior to the October meeting. Commissioner Carle commented that he wouldn’t cast a preliminary vote, and he would only vote at the December meeting if he felt he’d been able to study the record sufficiently to give him confidence that he was up to speed on the project.

Mr. Rooks’ column was full of similarly deceptive comments or instances where the “rest of the story” was conveniently omitted.

It is this type of propaganda--fed to the public for years—which has set Maine on a path of high-cost electricity, environmental damage and intimidation tactics when the public has had the audacity to oppose these developments.

If newspapers would insist on printing facts instead of rhetoric and reconstituted fiction, they would be doing this state a great service and they would make progress in restoring the reputation of “journalism” in Maine.

Karen Pease
Lexington Twp., Maine

Frank Heller's picture

Governors, jobs, and documentation

Rooks is a partisan writer for liberal causes, and as far as I know, doesn't have a labor economic's or DOL background; so when he claims "The actual number of net new jobs this year? Zero." he really needs an authoritative source for this claim since he isn't one.

I would hope that your intelligent, educated readers are well aware that the only way governors 'create' jobs is to borrow money from bonds, or from appropriations, or receive money from the Federal government or a foundation or the, gasp, 1%.

Even then, the jobs created are largely inside the government structure itself, i.e. 'STIMULUS' jobs

But we are in an era of severe cutbacks in global government spending and a struggling economy where the jobs created since the 'crash' in 2008, don't match those lost or needed.

So what can a governor do when faced these insurmountable odds?

Enable the private sector to expand at the least cost...deregulate when possible, provide incentives like those in Millinocket which enabled the mills to open, and spur on areas of opportunity like those at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. I wonder if Rooks has even contacted Steve Levesque about the varied interest by entrepreneurs in locating at the base?

And after all this is said, Rooks segways into a promo for a beleaguered and defeated wind farming industry who is now 0 for 5 in regard to adoption of local wind regulations. Do I see a commercial in here?

 's picture

???

The lesson is not to put too much stock in predictions. Like the fantastic predictions of the wind industry, there may be a tiny bit of something resembling truth, but in the real world it is so insignificant that it goes unnoticed. For instance, C02 reduction from renewables. That is not happening, and may be moving in the wrong direction because of the renewables and their heavy industry. Stopping mtn. top removal, again wishful thinking. China is buying more coal from the US than ever. Nothing can stop the coal industry apparently. The US can stop protecting our oil suppliers, again a misplaced idea. The US will find another reason to occupy somebody as we are the de facto world police force. On it goes, with 14,000 inactive wind turbines in the US already. Back to the comments about LURC, the Downeast Watershed should not have been included in the expedited zone in the first place. It comes as no surprise that the task force was made up of wind industry reps and their avowed supporters.I doubt they even knew about the 1A and 1B rated lakes. Island Falls has a couple also which need protection.Lincoln has Upper and Crooked which were never considered in a study by the state which was never completed for scenic lakes assessment. Why should negligence be accepted as grounds for development?

 's picture

If Governor LePage is

If Governor LePage is hesitant to promote jobs that will destroy Maine's natural heritage and will raise electricity rates for Mainers, can he truly be faulted for that? Tourism is Maine's most powerful economic engine and has propped up this state for well over a century. This will continue only as long as we remain responsible stewards of our state's natural scenic treasures. Maine is a beautiful place and people come here from all over the world to see it. We need to protect our viewsheds, not destroy them. They are worth billions of dollars. Ten billion per year, as a matter of fact, and the jobs created by tourism number over 170,000 full time positions. Let's put the contractors to work repairing our bridges, repairing our roads, weatherizing our older housing stock. Keep the bulldozers, Chinese towers and dynamite off our mountain tops. Restore the environmental protection that Baldacci stripped away from our mountains. Reestablish hydro power as a renewable energy source. Get back on track to a sustainable and healthy Maine economy.

Alan Michka's picture

Wind jobs - what jobs?

Rooks comments are not surprising; he's been an unequivocal public supporter of anything "wind." His recent Mainebiz interview of wind developer, Angus King, was almost embarrassing to read. Cream puff questions everywhere. One would have assumed that King wrote the questions himself. Friends probably shouldn't be interviewing friends. It doesn't do much to enhance the legitimacy factor.

The jobs he touts are mostly temporary construction jobs. Construction jobs are great, but you don't build a stable, long-term economy on temporary work that depends on government mandates and subsidies. Permanent jobs associated with land-based wind turbines are few and far between. King's application for his original 48-turbine Highland project gave an estimate of 4-6 jobs, hardly a bonanza.

Regarding the governor's statement that wind turbines “are doing an awful lot of damage to our quality of life, our mountains”, Rooks remarks, "What the “damage” was he didn’t say." That's because he doesn't have to, Mr. Rooks.

The damage is obvious to most of us - especially those of us facing the rest of our lives living next door to them. That's something Rooks and King won't have to do, of course.

Rook's comments remind me of the old phrase that "a cynic knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing."

 's picture

Rooks is a Wind Shill

The by line here for Douglas Rooks should have included "notorious wind shill". I think it is high time that Rooks disclosed exactly what his relationship to the windustry is, other than long-tome supporter of mountain destroyer-wind developer Angus King.

This is an incredibly biased article. LURC erred terribly in the Sisk Mt. case and a decision on this is pending from the Maine Supreme Court. As for Bowers Mt., I attended the two days of hearings in Lincoln and LURC did due diligence and the opponents of this project won the day and LURC did the right thing. In any other state or country (Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia comes to mind) this incredible treasure of undeveloped lakes would be protected and preserved, not ringed with 40 story wind turbines.

Stacy Fitts, it must be noted, has a conflict of interest, working for (and advancing the financial interests of) Kleinschmidt Associates which contracts with the wind industry. He and Rep. Hinck worked hard this past legislative session to thwart any proposed changes to the heinous Expedited Wind Permitting statute. The law has denied citizens any rights to have input to wind projects while opening the door to an onslaught of industrialization of our magnificent and priceless mountains. It is, indeed, a sad chapter in our state's history.

 's picture

Fitts and Hinck

These 2 have direct connections to WIND companies and push any WIND project they can under the guise of renewable.

 's picture

The likelihood of achieving

The likelihood of achieving prosperity through fantasy is intriguing. Converting wind to electricity and reaching a goal that would have 20% of Maine's electrical consumption come from wind, upon simple face value, is a fantastic thought. To think this path to energy makeover will lead to an electric vehicle revolution is " Disneyland " , imagination gone wild.
Each and every wind turbine, from imagination to development assaults the electrical consumer with added costs , costs which erode the consumer's ability to purchase other commodities, services or products. Reducing the people's buying power by forcing unneeded costs upon them fails the " Prosperity through Reality " test.
The author should consider pulling his head out of the clouds. Blind faith in fantasy, or the future as central planning dictates, falls flat on it's face value.

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