The Secret's Out
Sure, health concerns matter. Wildlife impacts matter. And aesthetics matter. But our message is also economic. Here’s the fact the industrial wind developers want to keep from you: Mountain-based wind turbines in Maine do not make economic or environmental sense. Why not? Because the costs and impacts of building industrial wind plants on Maine’s mountaintops far outweigh the tiny benefits.
Here are 20 Facts Every Mainer Should Know
Wind-generated electricity will not “get us off of oil.” 99% of Maine electricity generation is from clean sources other than oil and coal. We use oil for transportation and heating.
There is no shortage of electricity. Maine has 4400 megawatts (MW) of electricity generation capacity, though we rarely use even 1500 MW. The grid operator forecasts flat growth in demand for the next decade. No urgent need exists to sacrifice unique resources at taxpayer and ratepayer expense to produce a tiny amount of low-quality surplus electricity. New England could retire its few remaining oil and coal plants in the next decade, but those generators produce base load or peak load power, something wind-generated electricity cannot do.
Maine is already the 3rd cleanest state in the nation for CO2 emissions from electricity generation, even without a massive buildup of wind turbines. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Maine ranks first in non-hydro renewable electricity generation per capita, per gross state product and as a percentage of total electricity generation. Maine has by far the highest renewable portfolio standard in the U.S. Transportation is responsible for more than five times as much CO2 as Electricity generation, which accounts for only 8% of Maine CO2 emissions, 1.4% of New England CO2 emissions, and 4/10,000ths of 1% of USA CO2 emissions.
Unlike most generation sources, wind has a fatal flaw: it is both intermittent and unpredictable. By necessity, conventional firm capacity generators: nuclear, biomass, natural gas, hydropower, etc. will remain the primary suppliers of electricity to the New England grid well into the future. Wind-generated electricity cannot, by its nature, replace or displace these “base load” or “peak load” generators. Its inferiority restricts wind to a role as a marginal supplier of electricity.
The Maine Legislature’s 2,700 MW goal for land-based wind generating capacity will require the construction of as many as 1,500 wind turbines, as tall as Boston skyscrapers, spaced a quarter mile apart on up to 300 miles of rural Maine’s mountains and hills. That turbine buildout would ruin the vistas of and from nearly every Maine mountain.
Too much to spend, too little to gain. The poor quality of Maine’s wind resource gives wind-generated electricity an effective output around 25% of its nameplate capacity, or only 675 MW of the 2,700 MW goal. On New England’s 34,000 MW grid, 675 MW is a drop in the bucket – especially when considering the hundreds of miles of costly turbines and transmission lines needed to achieve the goal. The expansive industrialization of rural Maine with up to 1500 massive wind turbines would be environmentally devastating, while the optimistic 675 MW would be less than 5% additional electricity (often produced when it isn’t needed) to the New England grid. It would have no noticeable impact on New England’s fossil fuel consumption.
Wind-generated electricity is high impact and low benefit. The entirety of Maine’s 2,700 MW goal could be supplanted by the construction and operation of A SINGLE, moderately sized, high-quality conventional generator, at 85% less cost.
Wind turbines on Maine’s mountaintops will not enhance our energy security. Virtually all of the electricity generation sources in New England are from North America. ALL are readily available in North America.
Wind will not get us off of coal. Placing wind plants on Maine’s mountains will not reduce coal consumption or stop mountaintop removal mining. Coal is used in other parts of the country as a reliable (albeit dirty) base load fuel, with some states deriving up to 75% of their electricity from coal. Wind power cannot generate base load power, so it cannot replace coal plants. Coal now generates less than 2% of New England electricity, and it is increasingly being replaced by much cleaner natural gas.
Placing wind turbines on Maine’s mountains will not improve Maine’s air quality. Because wind-generated electricity cannot replace (and can barely even displace) conventional generation, it does not reduce emissions. Moreover, EPA figures show that the burning of fossil fuels in Maine is a minor source of the state’s particulate pollution. Most fossil fuel pollutants blow into Maine from other regions of the country.
If CO2 is a problem, wind-generated electricity is not its solution. Placing wind plants on Maine’s mountains will have no impact on climate change. Using the wind industry’s own claims, 2700 MW of installed wind capacity in Maine could in the best-case theoretical conditions only reduce total U.S. CO2 emissions by less than four-one-hundredths of one percent (0.04%.) Globally, there would be no measurable impact.Wind plants require sources of NEW conventional generating capacity. The 2010 New England Wind Integration Study stated that, “Wind's intermittent nature would require increased reserves, ensuring that there are other generation options when the wind isn't blowing.”
Wind-generated electricity’s grid acceptance will require an unprecedented expansion of transmission capacity. The president and chief executive of ISO-New England said in 2010 that large scale deployment of wind-generated electricity “would require spending $19 billion to $25 billion for new transmission lines.” These billions are charged to New England electric bills, needlessly bleeding our economy of critical disposable income.
Wind-generated electricity will not guarantee lower electricity rates. Wind industry officials often state that they cannot compete with low natural gas prices, which are forecast to remain low and stable for decades. The wind industry’s insistence on a federal Renewable Energy Standard and continued tax credits are proof that wind-generated electricity cannot compete with other sources.
Without government mandates wind-generated electricity is not viable. It is said that “wind should be a part of the mix” in an “all of the above” electricity procurement strategy. First, wind’s “part” would be insignificant. Second, “all of the above” is an unsustainable practice, and should be amended to “all of the viable.” What purchaser of anything (medicine, groceries, appliances…) can sustain an “all of the above” procurement approach?
Demand for wind-generated electricity is created by government policy, not by demand. Without favoritism from government policies that force ratepayers to pay the bill, the wind industry could not survive.
Wind is the most heavily subsidized by taxpayers. Through various federal programs, wind-generated electricity is subsidized, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, at a rate of $56.29 per megawatt hour (MWh). Compare this to other subsidized sources like natural gas and coal, which receive 64 cents/MWh, Hydro: 82 cents, Nuclear: $3.14, and Geothermal: $12.85/MWh. In 2010 the $5 Billion in federal subsidies for wind-generated electricity was more than TRIPLE the amount that went to natural gas-generated electricity and coal-generated electricity COMBINED. Note that in the same year natural gas and coal produced THIRTY times more electricity than wind: 69% of all American electricity, while wind produced a mere 2%.
Wind plants create very few permanent jobs. Despite boasts of creating Maine jobs, wind plants produce mostly temporary construction jobs lasting fewer than six months. Wind projects certainly SPEND much, but they do not INVEST in jobs. Construction jobs are always welcome, but publicly-funded construction jobs should not simply “make work.” They should produce necessary and useful assets like roads, bridges, and critical infrastructure whose benefits exceed their impacts. Also, state mandates to purchase higher priced wind-generated electricity could lead to LOST jobs and fewer available jobs in Maine; for every $100 million worth disposable income that is extracted from Maine’s economy to buy unnecessary and ineffective wind infrastructure, Maine loses the equivalent income of 3700 jobs.
Most of a wind plant’s expenditures occur outside of Maine – primarily, overseas. Property values of most new wind developments in Maine are sheltered from property tax increases by tax increment financing (TIF), leaving Mainers to pay a sizable share of the wind developers’ taxes.
Health issues result from every existing wind-generated electricity plant. EVERY operating wind plant in Maine that has been sited near people has significant unresolved disputes over noise and shadow flicker.
Maine’s “Quality of Place” will be undermined. The 2006 Brookings Institute Report “Charting Maine’s Future” warned us to avoid sprawl in order to protect our “quality of place.” Maine’s wind development policy actually encourages rural sprawl, threatening Maine’s distinctively unique character and future prosperity
Sources: US Energy Information Administration, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Public Utilities Commission, ISO-New England