Opposites attract over harnessing wind power

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Anything that can get environmentalists and industrialists to agree must be worthwhile.

We’re talking about harnessing energy from wind turbines, a prime source of renewable power upon which Maine is ideally situated to capitalize. We have the need, the landscape, the investors, and the political will (except, so far, from the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission).

Now we have a task force, announced on June 28 by Gov. John Baldacci, composed of a balanced cadre of 16 viewpoints from the legislative, bureaucratic, energy, industrial and environmental spheres.

It’s also bipartisan: Sen. Phil Bartlett of Gorham and Rep. Bruce MacDonald of Boothbay for the Democrats, and Sen. Walter Gooley of Farmington and Rep. Stacey Fitts of Pittsfield for the Republicans.

Maine Audubon, Natural Resources Council of Maine, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the alternative energy industry, consumer advocates and each applicable state agency are also represented, including the commissioners of the departments of environmental protection and conservation.

It’s a weighty panel with a weighty task: developing a thoughtful, forward-thinking strategy for wind power in Maine. By directing the support of wind power into practical policies, Maine can position itself to lead New England in alternative energy development.

The potential for wind power is blowing strong, and ceaseless. The rejected project by Maine Mountain Power for Black Nubble Mountain has been resurrected. So has a smaller, three-turbine project on Beaver Ridge in the town of Freedom, after months of legal and municipal wrangling.

And the largest pending project, TransCanada’s $270 million, 44-turbine development in Kibby and Skinner townships, recently struck a landmark swap with conservation groups in response to opposition for projects on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range.

TransCanada has agreed to preserve 750 acres in the Mahoosuc Range, at a cost of $500,000, to earn support from the NRCM, Maine Audubon and the Appalachian Mountain Club,

Wind power, it seems, is common ground for opposing ideologies. Like steelworkers and environmentalists, who agree because demand for alternative energy could mean creating a new manufacturing industry dependent on steel.

Milton McBreairty, business manager for IBEW Local 567 in Lewiston and a new member of the task force, echoes this sentiment, and says the electricians’ union has similar economic interest in seeing wind power develop.

LURC’s rejection of the Black Nubble/Redington projects was instructive in detailing which issues can derail development of wind power. As a policy decision, it was disastrous; as a lesson for the future of wind power, however, it was invaluable, as overcoming adversity requires knowing where the pitfalls lie.

Armed with this knowledge, and supported by the unity displayed by diverse interests, the wind power task force now has a golden chance – perhaps the only chance – to define Maine’s alternative energy future.

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