This fall, driving across the High Plains country east of Cheyenne, Wyo., my companion and I were left slack-jawed by the most incongruous sight: white, turbine-bladed windmills as far as the eye could see. It is a surreal vision, more a space-age panorama than a picture-book vista of Big Sky Country. I liked the old view better, before these stark white behemoths cluttered up the famous Western expanse. No wonder the late Senator Edward Kennedy used his power to keep the wind turbines from his beloved Cape.

In Maine, there is a rush to wind power. As fishing writer Jack Gagnon reports in the January issue of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, “Governor Baldacci sanctioned the invasion of First Wind, and other wind power development companies, with an “emergency measure” that was ushered into law with little scrutiny. To meet the power generation goal of the legislation, the Governor’s plan calls for roughly 1700 windmills, spaced 1/5 of a mile apart; a total distance of about 340 miles. Looking at the Maine Gazetteer, imagine a road from Sanford to Presque Isle. Now envision driving the length of that road. For about six hours, you will pass a 400-foot high windmill every time your odometer clicks off two tenths of a mile.”

Gagnon believes that drilling all these huge holes in the tops of so many of our mountains, in the heart of trout country, will raise havoc with our cold water aquifers and, ultimately, damage our precious wild trout fishery. Another concerned citizen, Karen Pease, a resident of Western Maine, which is Ground Zero for wind turbines, is adamant that Maine is making a terrible mistake. In a letter to the editor in the Northwoods Sporting Journal she writes,” The Maine Legislature, without debate, passed an expedited permitting law which reduces and even eliminates many of the standard restrictions for development in Maine’s unorganized territories. This law is meant to smooth the way for the developers of industrial-sized wind turbine farms, enabling them to circumvent the usual precautions that have been in place to protect Maine’s wildlife, as well as her wilderness and rural areas. Independence Wind is on the verge of submitting an application to LURC, requesting a permit to erect forty-nine 400- to 500-foot wind turbines along eight miles of mountaintops in neighboring Highland Plantation. They have publicly declared their intention to build more than 20 miles of roads through unspoiled forest and along rugged hillsides. They plan to blast the tops of these mountains to level the places where the huge bases for the turbines must be built. Those two occurrences alone will forever change the topography of this unspoiled region.”

Gagnon and Pease raise some good questions. In truth, because of the incredible political momentum of any energy mode with the Green Label, we are getting these windmills through the fast track with little or no study, or consideration for the downside implications. And there are always some tradeoffs.

According to Gagnon, a wind turbine in Kittery went defunct. The owner said, “These wind turbines work great in flat open areas like Texas, but now says they should never have been put in New England. “Too hilly… Too many trees… Not enough wind.”

That seems to make sense. Unlike Maine, the wind is a steady byproduct in the High Plains of the West. If this is so, why would investors put their money in Maine wind power? Tax advantages? It wouldn’t be the first time that favorable national or state tax policy gave birth to bad ideas.

What is most perplexing is the seeming lack of public eyebrow raising as more and more of these big white wind machines dot our Maine landscape. It may be that in this era of political correctness that the average citizen is timid about speaking out for fear of appearing “ungreen.” Heaven forbid!

If these space-age eyesores generated meaningful jobs for Mainers, or cheaper electricity for our homes the tradeoff might have an allure. Gagnon raises an even more troubling question. If the energy equation changes for some unforeseen reason, and these windmills become outmoded or financially unsound, what then? Writes Gagnon, “Picture the possibility; twenty years from now. 1700 defunct windmills dotting the Maine horizon, as far as the eye can see. The manufacturer out of business. Who’s left holding the bag?”

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal and has written his first book, A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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