Windpower right for Maine

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J Dwight’s latest attack on wind power in Maine (Sun Journal, March 21) repeats many of the myths now circulating and even adds a few new ones. Space doesn’t allow an answer to every one, but here is a start:

Myth 1. “Incentives given to industrial wind developers mean there will be scant additions to state tax revenues.” The fact is there are no (as in zip, zilch, nada) state incentives to wind projects and they will produce income taxes to the state like any other business. In addition, wind projects are required by law to provide “tangible benefits” to the host community (like the free power we are providing to the citizens of Roxbury) over and above significant local taxes. We’ll pay about two thirds of the taxes in Roxbury, for example; if our project was in Lewiston, we’d be the biggest taxpayer in the city.

Myth 2. “Permitting is fast. The appeal process is shortened, stifled and silenced.” I wish someone would tell this to the DEP; we are just entering our fourth year of work on our Roxbury project and the DEP permit we applied for in December of 2008 was just confirmed by the Board of Environmental Protection last week. Along the way, there have been some 29 public meetings in and around Roxbury and two full town meetings where the citizens voted in favor of the project not once but twice. Opponents of the project could (and did) appeal the DEP decision to the board and can go to court if they choose. I’ve heard of glaciers that move faster than this.

Myth 3. “Spot prices for electricity from traditional sources average about $46 per megawatt hour … Wind energy, which is being sold at long-term contract prices not spot prices, would cost about $80 per mwh hour, or almost twice as much.” Well, yes, spot prices average about $46 a megawatt hour right now; but in 2007, they averaged $65 and in 2008 — guess what — they averaged $78 per megawatt hour. Secondly, there is no set price for wind energy (I don’t know where he got the $80 figure); no one is forced to buy wind power, at whatever price — we have to compete for customers like any other electricity generator.

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And additionally, long-term contracts can make a lot more sense for consumers than always taking our chances on the spot market; that’s why most of us lock-in our oil contracts before the winter begins. In fact, long-term fixed price contracts are an advantage to consumers that only wind (and hydro) can offer. Try getting a fixed price oil or gas contract for 15 or 20 years.

Myth 4. “Contracts at almost double the current wholesale cost of electricity have been granted to First Wind’s Rollins Project.” Again, flat wrong. The Rollins contract is set to ride up and down with spot prices and, in fact, has features very favorable to Maine consumers. The PUC and a group of outside consultants made sure that there is very little if any risk to ratepayers. If anything, this contract will save ratepayers a lot of money over its term.

Myth 5. My son and I both work in the wind power business. Well, he got this one right. And Jimmy Simones’ son works with him in the restaurant business. So what’s the point?

The stark reality is that 87 percent of Maine’s total energy needs come from oil or natural gas, not an ounce of which comes from within Maine. This leaves us completely vulnerable to risks of both supply and price (remember 2008?) which is downright dangerous. Wind is not the whole answer by any means, but it can be part of the answer — and most importantly, it’s a resource we have here at home, and once the cost of construction is paid, the fuel is free.

As we move toward electric cars (three new plug-ins are due on the market in the next year) and various forms of electric heat, electricity demand will go up significantly and that electricity will be directly offsetting oil. The only question then is where it will come from, and that’s where we have to make choices. Among the likely in-state options (in addition to conservation) are nuclear, coal, oil, more natural gas (already 55 percent of our electrical system), or renewables like wind and tidal. Each has impacts, but compared to the others (which is the only fair way to look at it), wind looks pretty good.

Mr. Dwight’s preferred option is to drill in the ocean off our coast. There may be oil and gas out there — although the scientific estimates are that it’s pretty sparse compared with other areas of the US coastline — but even if there is, it would take a decade or more to bring any meaningful supplies on-line. And there is no free lunch here, either; ask our fishermen how they feel about drilling in Georges Bank.

The point is that there’s no silver bullet — neither wind, drilling, or new nukes — but there can be silver buckshot: lots of smaller pieces which add up to greater energy security for all of us. And it just makes sense that part of that solution should be the infinitely renewable power of the great winds that sweep across Maine every day.

Angus King is a former governor of Maine and owned Northeast Energy Management Inc. before taking office. He co-owns Independence Wind LLC, a Maine company formed to develop large-scale wind power projects in New England.

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