Industry spokesman: wind companies losing interest in Maine

Uncertainty injected into southern "New England Clean Energy" RFP decisions

(Weld, Maine) Opponents of building giant wind turbines in Maine’s remote wilderness are deploying effective tactics that have chased wind capital out of the state, according to Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

Jeremy Payne, spokesperson for Maine's wind industrialists. Photo by Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine.

Jeremy Payne, spokesperson for Maine's wind industrialists. Photo by Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine.

In recent weeks, wind opponents have been fanning out across the state, explaining to residents how to gather petition signatures and "opt out" of Maine's Expedited Permitting Area for Wind Energy, also called the Expedited Area (EA). (See "Wind energy to suffer another blow in Maine," September 20, 2015.)

Wind projects proposed in these extremely rural areas are currently not required to win local zoning approval. These areas comprise the majority of the state’s land mass, but are home to just one percent of the population. The EA was shrewdly created in a little-understood maneuver of the Maine Legislature, when it unanimously passed the Wind Energy Act in 2008. Lawmakers wanted to make it quicker and easier to build industrial wind turbines in rural Maine. The net result was that a tiny percentage of Maine people were stripped of land use rights and protections that citizens in the rest of the state enjoy. More than 50 Maine towns in other parts of the state have adopted protective wind energy ordinances since 2008, but residents of the “expedited area” lost the ability to do the same, the moment Governor John Baldacci signed the Wind Energy Act into law.

Recently, however, dozens of opt-out petitions have been turned in to state officials, and Payne conceded this has made the state far less attractive to wind developers.

“At a minimum I think it has caused some companies to push pause on their development plans, and at a maximum I think it has caused some companies to re-deploy their capital outside of Maine,” Payne told the Maine Today papers a few days ago.

Chris O’Neil, a spokesperson for the anti-wind group Friends of Maine’s Mountains, said the exodus of wind investment capital is a major victory for groups like his, who argue that erecting wind turbines is a wasteful investment of taxpayer and ratepayer money that will hurt Maine’s economy. The state is a well-known vacation destination for skiers, boaters, hunters, hikers, fishing enthusiasts and people seeking solitude, away from more urban and industrialized areas.

“This news has electrified wind opponents like nothing else has,” said O’Neil. “If the money to build them is running away, then the turbines will not be built. This gives us a major shot of adrenaline, so the interests Mr. Payne represents can certainly count on increasingly ferocious and costly battles for many years to come.”

Major disadvantage for ME companies in regional RFP process

Growing opposition in Maine, and its confirmed effectiveness at deterring wind development, could have a major impact on a consortium of agencies and electric utilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Last fall, the consortium issued a Request for Proposals to deliver at least 5,000 gigawatt hours of clean energy to those states, with proposals due in late January of 2016. The initial results of the RFP made headlines all over New England, when the consortium announced that it had received 51 separate proposals from developers.

On January 29, utilities Emera Maine and Central Maine Power announced that they had submitted a joint transmission proposal in response to the RFP. O’Neil said that particular news defined the next new battleground for wind turbine opponents in Maine. He described wind development in Maine as “the heist,” and costly new transmission systems as “the getaway car.”

“Our strategy is no secret. We want states to our south to know that the regulatory and legal hurdles they face as they try to rob Maine of its famous wilderness areas are enormous, and hopefully insurmountable. They will encounter an especially burdensome process here. In fact, it’s probably in their best interest that they rule out Maine wind right now, and instead pursue viable solutions to the challenges facing the grid and the environment.”