Wind power: $1 billion and growing

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In Washington and Augusta there’s been much debate about energy and energy policy in recent days.

Gov. Paul LePage and President Barack Obama — on the very same night — made energy production a significant component of speeches addressing the State of the State and the State of the Union, respectively.

Not surprisingly, the president, a Democrat, and the governor, a Republican, were not exactly on the same page.

But, if you listen closely to what both men said you will hear some common themes, ideas and strategies.

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“My energy policy will focus on all forms of energy and give Mainers the freedom to choose whether or not they buy from renewable sources,” LePage said.

That line fetched lengthy and loud applause from the Legislature.

Fetching equally lengthy and loud applause from Congress, the president said:

“This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy.”

For Obama, that means opening up more offshore oil reserves for drilling and continuing or extending federal tax credits aimed at propelling the development of America’s renewable energy infrastructure.

So far, that strategy is producing not only energy, but jobs at the national and state levels.

In Maine, the wind power industry has invested $1 billion in recent years. No other industry in the state can claim a similar level of investment or job creation.

Much maligned by critics who claim industrial turbines will destroy our environment and our health, the state’s aggressive renewable energy policy — launched by LePage’s predecessor — is indeed putting Mainers to work, adding to state and local tax bases and positioning the state to be ahead of the energy curve.

A December 2011 PanAtlantic poll commissioned by DownEast Magazine and the Bangor Daily News showed 86 percent of respondents favored, either strongly or somewhat strongly, having wind turbines in Maine.

A mere 6 percent said they were strongly opposed to wind turbines. Those are telling numbers.

Most recently, a study released by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection showed very little scientific or medical evidence exists to sustain the claims being made by that very vocal minority.

We understand the concern that wind turbines not be spread willy-nilly across every ridgetop in Maine, but that isn’t occurring. The amount of land being developed for wind energy in Maine amounts to a very small percentage of the available open space in the state.

All of the land in Maine at an elevation higher than 1,000 feet above sea level — the places most likely to have the wind needed for an inland wind turbine farm — amounts to about 6.5 million acres, according to a study conducted by Maine-based general contractor and wind farm developer Reed & Reed.

So far, only a small fraction of that — about 400 acres — has wind turbines on it.

“So when people tell you we are ripping the tops off mountains, you need to keep that in perspective,” Reed & Reed CEO Jackson Parker recently told the Sun Journal editorial board. “And what it amounts to is like a very small desk being placed on a football field.”

Like other technologies, wind generators continue to evolve and are becoming more efficient and more capable of producing more energy at ever-decreasing wind speeds.

The same geographical footprint, Parker noted, will produce more power in the future than it does today and at a lower costs, largely because most of the support infrastructure — such as roads and transmission lines — that add to a project’s start-up costs will already be in place.

Focused on accelerating the development of renewable energy sources by reducing, where appropriate, a burdensome and bureaucratic regulatory process, Maine has vaulted to the top of the renewable energy production heap in New England.

With 396 megawatts of installed capacity, we now make more power from the free fuel of the wind than any other state in the region. That’s less than 20 percent of the state’s goal of 2,000 megawatts by 2020. If we get to that goal, it means that, in total, more than $7 billion will be invested in Maine.

More hydro, biomass, natural gas, solar, geothermal and tidal power should also have places in Maine’s energy future.

Maine people and even the wind developers themselves know that wind isn’t the panacea for state, national or global energy needs.

But wind, as much as natural gas and hydro, should be part of a multi-source portfolio that makes up the president’s “all-of-the-above” strategy.

It should also receive stronger support from the governor who has promised now to focus on “all forms of energy.”

sthistle@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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