Don't tread on ME

Maine is preparing for battle, as some historic decisions are being made this month in Boston. The Massachusetts Clean Energy RFP has attracted numerous proposals to develop industrial scale wind energy that could more than triple the installed wind capacity now in Maine. 

Maine tore down the billboards 40 years ago  (Press Herald photo)

Maine tore down the billboards 40 years ago  (Press Herald photo)

Nobody appreciates a clean environment like Mainers, who banned billboards in 1977.  But when it comes to hosting wind plantations, we have had enough. A decade ago Maine generally viewed wind energy as necessary, useful and trendy. But having witnessed wind’s colossal impacts and miniscule benefits, over 100 Maine communities have taken action to thwart wind development.

Boston is the 12th ranked city in the nation with 49 skyscrapers over 100 meters tall. Shockingly, our pristine Maine woods are host to almost ten times that many skyscrapers. On mountains!  Maine has reached its limit, with almost 1000 megawatts of installed wind energy. If the pending Boston decision triples that amount it will do grave harm to the New England Electric grid, to our regional economy, and to Maine’s environment. 

Tourism is one of Maine’s largest industries. Maine tourism depends on our brand: the outdoors.  According to the Maine Office of Tourism’s latest figures, 41% of overnight visitors come primarily for the lakes & mountains/highlands/Downeast. That is more than the visitors who flock to trendy Portland and Maine’s spectacular beaches combined.  Moreover, a whopping 88% of overnight visitors came to Maine for touring/sightseeing/active outdoor activities.  This is 28% higher than people who came for the food scene.  Tragically, these special areas and the outdoor activities within them are directly threatened by industrial scale wind development.  

Massachusetts is Maine’s biggest tourism customer. So it is clear that Massachusetts citizens appreciate Maine’s fabled Quality of Place, which the Brookings Institution called our “calling card, brand, and truest source of prosperity.” Ironically, the state that apparently loves Maine most is now poised to destroy that which makes Maine such an attractive outdoor destination.

Everbody has responsibility for the environment. Maine is doing its part. The Bay State’s population is five times greater than Maine’s. Yet Maine has five times more wind turbines. While wind developers won’t even bother trying to locate in Massachusetts, they readily industrialize Maine’s iconic White Mountain National Forest, our Mahoosuc Range, the High Peaks Region, the Boundary Mountains, the Appalachian Trail, Katahdin and other priceless natural resources. 

Maine has the highest Renewable Portfolio Standard of the 50 states.  Maine CO2 emissions from electricity rank third least in the nation, contributing less than 2% of total New England CO2 emissions.  Maine has facilitated industrial wind speculators to bill ratepayers for over a billion dollars worth of massive wind infrastructure, not including the billions more in accompanying transmission costs and capacity payments.  Maine is doing its part.  

While high energy costs have exacerbated Maine’s loss of industry, Massachusetts has persistently isolated us from nearby plentiful and inexpensive natural gas supplies. It once seemed smart spending money on wind infrastructure instead of gas infrastucture. But now we know that wind contributes only a tiny fraction of our electricity, while our neglect of critical gas investment is forcing an expensive and dirty return to oil and coal.

Massachusetts should do its part: allow crucial gas pipeline upgrades, host its own wind turbines, and buy quality renewables from Quebec.

There are some good and necessary proposals in the RFP.  The selection committee must make sound policy decisions, rather than chase old trends. 

Recently the New England grid operator wrote:

"More than 4,200 megawatts (MW)…will have shut down between 2012 and 2020 and is being replaced primarily by new natural-gas-fired plants…Over 5,500 MW of additional oil and coal capacity are at risk for retirement in coming years, and uncertainty surrounds the future of 3,300 MW from the region’s remaining nuclear plants… These retiring resources are likely to be replaced by more natural-gas-fired resources, thereby exacerbating the region’s already constrained natural gas transportation system…"

Thousands of low-performing wind turbines cannot fill this growing void in baseload / peakload power. Only the High Voltage Direct Current transmission projects from Quebec (one of them in Maine) can provide the dispatchable, clean, affordable energy that New England wants and needs. 

Mainers will oppose wind projects at every stage of permitting.