Editor’s note: This is in response to the guest column by Steve Thurston of Manchester, Vt., published Jan. 4, that criticized the proposed wind power project in Roxbury. It is presented in a question-and-answer format to represent questions the public may have about the project.
Hey, Angus, why are you guys proposing this wind project up in Roxbury that I’ve heard so much about?

First, because it’s a windy spot, with the ridge running north and south, so the windmills can face the prevailing winds from the west. Secondly, a transmission line which ties into the grid in Rumford runs right by the mountain.

But most importantly, because of the size of the parcel of land, the project can be built so that no one’s house is closer that 3,000 feet from the nearest windmill – and the vast majority of houses are well over a mile away. This is important because the issues neighbors have with wind projects are all about the setbacks – the distance between the houses and the turbines. The neighbors who have noise issues with other projects in Maine, for example, are generally within about 2,200 feet. The good thing about the Roxbury site is the natural buffer which surrounds the whole mountain.

But what’s in the deal for local people? Why should they allow the project in their town?

First, the tangible benefits are significant, starting with a huge reduction – about two-thirds – in local property taxes, even after losses in state subsidies. The other direct benefit is our offer to pay the energy portion of local CMP bills. This should reduce most households’ monthly electricity bill by about two-thirds. We don’t know of any other private wind project anywhere that has done this, but we wanted the people of Roxbury to feel a stake in the project – when they look up and see the blades turning, they’ll know that part of that power is coming to them.

The indirect benefits are about getting off of fossil fuels. More than half of Maine’s current electricity supply is from natural gas, not a whiff of which comes from within Maine. This is flat-out dangerous, both in terms of price and supply. The more energy self-sufficient we can be, the better – and wind is the best currently available technology to make that happen.

So what are the downsides for the town? This sounds too good to be true.

The only real downside is visual; these things are big and when they’re on top of a hill, they’re going to be seen. Many people who’ve seen them at Mars Hill or on Prince Edward Island or in Europe think they’re majestic or even beautiful. “Awesome” is probably the word used most often. Others, of course, think they’re ugly and shouldn’t be allowed in our mountains at all. This is a very personal thing, but the Roxbury “views” are all from more than a mile or two away and it’s likely that after they’ve been in place for a while, most people won’t even notice them, just like we don’t notice the telephone poles and wires we see every day.

But will this project really produce much power? Everybody knows the wind doesn’t blow all the time. Is it really worth it?

This project will produce as much electricity in a year as is used by all the houses in Oxford county, some 130 million kilowatt hours. The blades will turn about 80 percent of the time, but only produce full power when the wind reaches about 20 mph. This is just like a hydro plant which makes more or less power at various times, according to the amount of water coming down the river. Wind can’t be the whole energy answer, but it can be an important part – because when the wind blows, we won’t be burning so much of that natural gas.

That brings up an important point; you haven’t mentioned the environment. Can a project like this help us on that front?

Absolutely. A reasonable estimate is that this project will keep about 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into our atmosphere every year – which is like taking some 20,000 cars off the roads of Maine. Of course, our project is only small part of the solution to this worldwide problem, but we have to start somewhere. If we do nothing – because we don’t want change – our kids are going to wonder what we were thinking, and ask us why we didn’t at least try to help when we had the chance.

Geography and modern technology have come together to present the people of Roxbury with an extraordinary – indeed a once in a lifetime – opportunity. On Jan. 15, they will decide whether to seize it.

Angus King is co-founder of Independence Wind and the former governor of Maine. He lives in Brunswick.

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