I can’t understand why Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a former businessman, is so hostile to wind energy.

LD 1791, “An Act to Expand Benefits from Maine’s Wind Resource,” a bill currently before the Maine Legislature, is a modified version of the governor’s proposed legislation to amend the 2008 Maine Wind Energy Act. It would remove the Act’s specific quantitative goals for installed wind-energy capacity — 2,000 megawatts by 2015, 3,000 by 2020, and 8,000 by 2030 (including 5,000 from generation facilities located in coastal waters).

In their place, the bill would substitute new goals: “Expanded economic opportunities within the State, including increasing the number of jobs in the manufacturing, construction and development of wind energy projects; and lower electricity prices for the State’s residential, commercial and industrial consumers.”

Job creation is already a requirement of existing law. But wind-energy opponents could attempt to portray the rest of the legislation’s “goals” as approval criteria and use them as weapons (along with environmental, scenic, noise and safety impacts) when they appear before regulatory agencies and courts to fight proposed new projects.

The Maine Renewable Energy Association touts that the wind industry has invested over $1 billion in Maine-based projects and provided business for more than 700 Maine companies.

However, such statistics could be challenged under the new criteria, which emphasize in-state economic opportunities. After all, only $400 million of the industry’s $1 billion in investment was spent in Maine, the rest going to out-of-state tower and turbine purchases.

More importantly, the bill focuses upon “lower electricity prices,” but it doesn’t clarify whether these are current or projected prices. Non-renewable electricity prices are presently higher than carbon-based prices, even if they’re unlikely to stay that way indefinitely.

One possible interpretation of the bill, therefore, is that a project will have to wait until the comparative price advantage swings in favor of wind before it merits approval.

The alternative to wind (as well as tidal and solar) energy is continued reliance on carbon-based energy — oil, gas and coal — all bad business bets in a world market for fossil fuels that that has become increasingly characterized by tighter supply-to-demand ratios, higher costs and extreme price volatility.

We’re enjoying a honeymoon from oil and gas shortages, thanks to fracking, new drilling technologies and a world economy still recovering from recession. However, any disruption or even fear of disruption along the supply chain will increase price, as will increased demand as the world economy pulls out of recession.

Natural gas, for instance, has already shown itself to be less than the panacea it first seemed, becoming more expensive by leaps and bounds in the course of just one year.

Between January 2013 and January 2014, my own residential supplier increased its unit cost from approximately 69 cents to $2.66 a cubic foot, nearly a four-fold hike. The company’s proffered explanation for the sharp rise — an unusually cold winter weather coupled with insufficient pipeline capacity to bring natural gas into the state which necessitated construction of facilities to store it.

Petroleum, coal and natural gas, represent deposits of ancient organic materials, such as algae, plankton and dead plant matter, buried under geological layers of mud and rock for hundreds of millions of years and subjected to tremendous heat and pressure. The reserves of these fossil fuels are finite and non-renewable (at least in any time frame that could be of use to humankind).

In short, they’re a dwindling resource, not to mention one that’s difficult and costly to extract, process and transport.

Wind-generated electricity will inevitably become price competitive with every fossil fuel, because it’s a free, inexhaustible resource and one that’s relatively easy to convert to electrical energy and connect to existing power grids.

No one can precisely predict when fossil fuels will reach a tipping point and become permanently more costly than wind (or other forms of renewable) energy.

Knowing that day will surely arrive, however, and knowing that infrastructure for thousands of megawatts of wind energy capacity can’t be built overnight, it makes sense to get a jump on the future by quickly diversifying into alternative energy sources.

There are other reasons, of course, to move toward renewables. They include the threat of climate change and risks to public safety, health and environment posed by production, processing and transport of carbon-based fuels (exemplified by the Lac-Megantic freight-train explosion of 2013, Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash slurry spill of 2008, and a near epidemic rise in the incidence of childhood asthma), as well as the military costs of safeguarding oil fields, pipelines and sea lanes worldwide.

Leaving these factors aside, however, the shift to renewables can be justified on economic grounds alone. Granted, the goals set by the Maine Wind Energy Act won’t be met in timely fashion.

Though Maine leads New England wind-energy generation, it currently produces only about 430 megawatts using 200 turbines, according to the Renewable Energy Association. That’s just over 20 percent of the act’s targeted goal for 2015 (though still not bad, considering the state’s wind-ower generation produces almost half as much power as the Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, which was decommissioned between 1997 and 2005).

The answer, however, isn’t to eliminate the goals, but to revise them to reflect more realistic (though still ambitious) targets and to avoid complicating the approval process so that wind-energy expansion can proceed expeditiously.

Wind energy may not yet be competitive with other sources of electrical generation, but Gov. LePage should understand what every M.B.A. student is taught: The key to business success is the ability to forecast tomorrow’s market.

Elliott L. Epstein, a local attorney, is founder of Museum L-A and an adjunct history instructor at Central Maine Community College. He is the author of “Lucifer’s Child,”a book about the 1984 oven-death murder of Angela Palmer. He may be reached at [email protected].


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