Maine Compass: State has reached its limit on wind power
The Maine woods host more tall towers than the Boston skyline.
BY CHRIS O’NEIL
Maine people are preparing for battle, as historic decisions are being made this month in Boston. The Massachusetts Clean Energy RFP, a competitive solicitation for renewable power, has attracted proposals to develop industrial-scale wind energy that could more than triple the installed wind projects now in Maine.
Nobody appreciates a clean environment like Mainers. But when it comes to hosting wind plantations, we have had enough. A decade ago Maine generally viewed wind energy as necessary and useful. Wind was trendy. Now, having witnessed wind’s colossal impacts and minuscule benefits, more than 100 Maine communities have taken action to thwart wind development.
Boston has 49 skyscrapers more than 100 meters tall. Shockingly, our pristine Maine woods are now host to almost 10 times that many. On mountains! Maine has reached its limit, with almost 1,000 megawatts of installed wind projects — nearly all built to satisfy southern New England policies. If the pending Boston decision triples that amount, it will do irreparable harm to the New England electric grid, to our regional economy and to Maine’s environment.
Tourism, one of Maine’s largest industries, is hugely dependent on our quality of place. According to the Maine Office of Tourism’s latest figures, 41 percent of overnight visitors come primarily to see the lakes and mountains, the Maine Highlands (including Baxter State Park and Moosehead Lake) and Down East. That is more than the percentage of visitors who flock to red-hot Portland and Maine’s spectacular beaches combined. Moreover, 88 percent of overnight visitors came to Maine for touring, sightseeing and active outdoor activities. Compare that to the 60 percent who came for the food scene. Tragically, these special areas and the outdoor activities within them are directly threatened by industrial-scale wind development.
More Maine visitors come from Massachusetts than from any other state or province. So it is clear that Massachusetts residents 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 what makes Maine such an attractive outdoor destination.
People say Maine must do its part for the environment. Maine is doing its part. The Bay State’s population is five times greater than ours. Yet Maine has five times more wind turbines. While wind developers won’t even bother trying to locate in Massachusetts, they stand ready to industrialize Maine’s iconic White Mountain National Forest, our Mahoosuc Range, the High Peaks Region, the Boundary Mountains, the Appalachian Trail, Katahdin and many more of our priceless natural resources.
Maine has the highest renewable portfolio standard of any state. Maine CO2 emissions from electricity rank among the lowest in the nation, and account for less than 2 percent of total New England CO2 emissions. Maine has allowed industrial wind speculators to put ratepayers on the hook for over a billion dollars worth of massive wind infrastructure, not including the billions more in accompanying transmission costs and capacity payments.
While high energy costs have exacerbated Maine’s loss of major industry, Massachusetts has repeatedly isolated us from nearby plentiful and inexpensive natural gas supplies. It used to seem smart to spend money on wind infrastructure instead of on gas infrastucture. But now we see that wind and solar contribute only a tiny fraction of our electricity, and 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 necessary proposals in the RFP. The selection committee must make sound policy decisions, rather than go with what appears trendy.
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 can’t fill this growing void in base load and peak load 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 desperately needs.
Mainers stand ready to defend our state if Massachusetts unwisely chooses to pursue additional wind energy in Maine.
Chris O’Neil is public affairs director at Friends of Maine’s Mountains in South Freeport.