Meeting land-based wind goals not likely, say two state studies

Maine will not reach the state-mandated goals of generating 2,000 megawatts of wind power on land by 2015, according to studies issued this week by the governor’s energy office and an independent group of researchers.

The studies also urged reconsideration of the landmark 2008 law that allowed wind turbines to be built in ecologically and scenically important areas of the state.

“No one imagines that we’ll be meeting the goal at 2015,” said Stephen Ward, co-author of “Maine Wind Assessment 2012.”

According to Ward's report, “In order to meet the 2015 goal, at least 552 new turbines will have to be permitted and become operational by 2012, and — depending on the size of the turbines — potentially as many as 1,103 turbines will be needed."

The state is “making progress, though, in meeting the off-shore wind goals for 2020 and 2030,” says Ward’s report, although none is constructed.

Maine has eight large-scale, land-based operating wind projects that total 345.5 megawatts and five more projects in the pipeline that will provide a total of 300.8 MW.

Ward’s report was produced by Coastal Enterprises Inc. for the governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security.

CEI’s report, in turn, formed the basis of a report given Wednesday to a legislative committee by Ken Fletcher, head of the governor’s energy office.

That report, “Maine Wind Energy Development Assessment,” includes the same conclusion about Maine’s inability to meet its legally mandated goals.

“We’re not saying anybody has failed,” Fletcher said. “It’s just that the economic realities of the economy and the cost structure of wind seems to make it more of a challenge to get to the installed capacity.”

Both reports recommend changing state law to reflect more modest goals for 2015.

That had Jeremy Payne worried. Payne is head of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, which represents the state’s wind developers.

“I don’t understand the purpose of stepping back from the goal,” Payne said. “Why would we want to do that and send a bad signal to the investors? It’s a confusing signal to send to them at the wrong time.”

Payne said opponents to wind projects who mount legal appeals were to blame for the slow progress toward Maine’s wind development goals.

“You’re talking years upon years to get a decision,” Payne said.

The reports were done at the behest of legislators on the Utilities and Energy Committee who wanted a review of the Wind Energy Act.

The act was the product of a task force of wind energy supporters empaneled by then-Gov. John Baldacci, a strong booster of wind power. It gave developers a fast track to putting up wind turbines in some of the state’s treasured landscapes, including sensitive ecological areas above 2,700 feet, and it established aggressive goals that would have placed up to 2,000 turbines on Maine’s landscape by 2030.

The map of that “Expedited Wind Zone,” was put together by the task force in closed-door meetings for which no written records were kept. The CEI report said that redoing the map with a more diverse group would be a good idea.

“The Governor, the Legislature or DEP could convene a panel of disinterested parties to identify where in Maine expedited permitting could go forward in a way that causes no harm to local residents or environments,” wrote the authors. “This would amount to re-doing the work of the 2007 Wind Energy Task Force that, largely behind closed doors, assembled the original criteria for expedited permitting and its listing of scenic features.”

The report also says that the conflict that has arisen in recent years over siting of wind tower projects might be addressed by a different — more public — process.

“It may also be desirable to convene a group that is not composed entirely of interested stakeholders as also was the case in 2007,” the report states.

Dylan Voorhees, a Natural Resources Council of Maine energy expert who participated in the task force meetings, said he was open to redoing the map.

“Reconvening some kind of a task force or study group to look at the expedited area could be considered, but it would be a major and complicated undertaking,” Voorhees said.

One wind energy opponent said he was gratified by the two studies.

“I’m glad to see that the problems that have cropped up with expedited permitting have started to at least be addressed,” said Alan Michka of Lexington Township, chairman of Friends of the Highland Mountains. “Time will tell if they’re going to really be addressed or this is just lip service.”

Fletcher’s report recommended lawmakers find a better way to evaluate the visual impacts of wind towers and adopt policies requiring consideration of the cumulative impacts of multiple wind developments.

And the CEI report notes that while two state agencies — the Land Use Regulation Commission and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission — recognize sporting camps as “an iconic and historic cultural resource” worthy of protection from development, the state’s wind power laws do not, and perhaps should.

“We need to find an appropriate balance and process, not that we don’t want to do projects,” Fletcher said.

For example, Fletcher said that a proposed cluster of turbines in the expedited zone around the Down East lakes region — home to historic sporting camps — should be carefully scrutinized.

“Maybe that is such a unique and special area we should be considering that being removed from the expedited zone because of the uniqueness of it,” he said.

Both reports addressed another significant conflict between wind proponents and opponents: whether wind energy reduces greenhouse gases.

“The more wind runs, the less natural gas gets burned to generate electricity,” said Ward, an energy expert who represented the state’s utility consumers as the state’s public advocate for 20 years. “We really have no doubt that there is a beneficial effect of wind development in terms of greenhouse gases.”

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service based in Hallowell. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org. Email: mainecenter@gmail.com.

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Comments

Alice Barnett's picture

benefits

yet, Mars Hill needed a waiver to operate at 50 dBA nightime noise.
Vinal Haven is proven "out of compliance"
Spruce Mountain has Noise Reduction Operation.
Record Hill is getting complaints 2 miles away.

The developer will fix noise complaints by shutting the turbines down. When turbines are not working, they are not saving anybody anything. Projects such as Saddleback Ridge shows 34 "receptors" are going to hear 45 dBA. DEP marches right along in accepting this project knowing full well the machines will be shut down.
Developer walks away with the money and blames the citizen for complaining.

no benefits to saving the earth at all.

Alice Barnett's picture

" from report "

"DEP operates without any specific "process guidance"....the process is at the discretion of the DEP commisiioner." Aho.

I attended a DEP public meeting 3/22 in Canton about Canton Mountain Wind Project.
The purpose of the meeting was to ask questions of the permit process. But, it seems there were no answers.
Questions on Bald Eagles were defferred to DIFW.
Questions on Noise Complaint Protocol could not be answered.
The crowd heard interpetation of Maine Laws by the lawyer representing Patriot Renewables, the developer.
Basically, the Wind Energy Statutes are loosely interpeted and many definitions need to evolve. Such as the adverse scenic impact to Mt. Blue State Park. This park welcomes over 70,000 visitors a year, yet Patriot Renewables' survey of 22 hikers is the only basis of determining "no adverse scenic impact".
It is hard to get answers.

Alice Barnett's picture

" from report "

"is preceded by up to four years of data gathering in compliance with permitting requirements" by DEP and Developer.

And the real stake holders = "receptors" of noise and flicker and property owners with-in 2 miles of turbines.

Payne said opponents to wind projects who mount legal appeals were to blame for the slow progress toward Maine’s wind development goals.

"Generally developers prefer the non-hearing process to LURC's adjudicatory process."

The "receptors" had no choice but to pursue due process. DEP does not protect them.

Mike DiCenso's picture

Windsprawl

The state mandated goals shouldn't favor wind power. Hydro should never have been excluded, and favoring wind over solar, tidal, and geothermal seems wrong. It appears like some well connected developers had the most influence with the wind task force to pass such a one sided deal. The drastic impacts of windsprawl are not worth the fickle trickle of energy. I question Mr. Wards' contention that there are beneficial effects toward reducing greenhouse gasses. I believe he is sincerely trying to make sense of this quagmire, but I have not seen comprehensive data of total C02 starting from mining the metals in China thru the building , transportation, construction, and operation etc. to believe there is any benefit. The pollution savings info in the assessment was provided by the wind industry. I do not trust anything they have to say. The pollution assessment should have been done by an independent party. Were the tons saved figured using the imaginary nameplate capacity? Was the energy output counted even if the power went nowhere or was not used? Was fossil fuel ever reduced because of the wind power? Can a grid operator show a fact sheet that fossil fuel use was reduced, and if C02 was decreased or did it increase? Who monitors the emissions when power plants change output? These questions must be answered before anyone accepts theoretical claims from the beneficiaries of the subsidy largesse. Mr. Ward mentioned burning natural gas, how much natural gas is "flared" (wasted) wherever oil is drilled? How much is released and burned for safety before it collects and explodes? Is not nat. gas preferred over coal? Every day, 7000 jet airliners are spewing greenhouse gasses thousands of feet in the air over the US. Add the flights over the rest of the world in, plus diesel fuel burned by cruise, military, and cargo ships. Factor in the coal exports which are increasing to China (to build the wind towers) and elsewhere, and I see no possible way demolishing the ridgelines and mtns of Maine can help reduce C02. The assessment should have included pics of the damage done to the mtns. and the red blinking lights which turn nearby lakes into flashing neon signs advertising man's continued disregard for the natural world we all depend on.

Sally McGuire's picture

Assessing windpower

It's way past high time somebody did a serious review of cost/benefits of windpower in Maine. Maine's expedited wind law (written by those who stood to benefit, as mentioned above) was pushed through with minimal review, in record time: we married in haste and are regretting at leisure. I notice that Jeremy Payne of the wind developers thinks that stopping and considering all this is a bad idea, and maybe it is for him! For those of us who pay the bills it's more like "better late than never".
I urge the State government to consider ALL aspects of wind energy in any cost/benefit study. For instance, these installations are spread all over the landscape instead of concentrated in any one area, consequently the million-dollar-a-mile high-tension lines cost multiple millions more to build. There are clear economic downsides to affecting Maine's #1 economic driver, tourism, which need to be carefully considered. There's the question of who pays what, who gets reimbursed for their costs (hint: it isn't us), who pays more in their electrical bills and how much. Who is going to buy any wind energy that is produced? How much is set aside BEFORE any development to pay for removal once an installation's (short) lifespan is up? Who pays for fire suppression in remote areas since the towers do regularly fail and cause wildfires?
And as Penny said, the idea that windpower replaces other energy sources or saves on CO2 pollution has been very thoroughly debunked. The point of industrial windpower isn't to save the world, it's been to pour money into the pockets of such as Angus King. It's been a remarkably effective money machine and it's sure nice to think that maybe somebody will do a little investigating.

Penny Gray's picture

"The more wind runs, the less

"The more wind runs, the less natural gas gets burned to generate electricity,” said Ward, an energy expert who represented the state’s utility consumers as the state’s public advocate for 20 years. “We really have no doubt that there is a beneficial effect of wind development in terms of greenhouse gases.”

Seriously? The Bentek study debunked that CO2 myth a long time ago. There are no proven environmental benefits to industrial wind. In fact, it's just the opposite. How about giving us stakeholders (taxpayers) some real data on these existing projects? How much energy have they REALLY produced? Stating the nameplate capacity of a turbine is false advertising and deliberately deceptive. Show us the real figures. Show us how much is being produced and how much is being drawn OFF the grid to power the heating units and lights in the turbines. How is TransCanada's Kibby project faring? Rumor has it the turbines are off-line due to problems dealing with the "fickle mountain wind gusts". How many local residents are employed by these existing projects once construction is complete?

A moratorium on all industrial wind projects should be declared until a science-based cost/benefit analysis is completed. Maine's economy is tourism based. A friend who just drove across country told me that if we could keep those monstrous machines off of Maine's scenic landscapes, we'd have the biggest marketing tool in the nation. We need to give these multi-national carpet baggers the boot.

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