Wind Power and the Maine Legislature 2013

An interesting story in the Bangor Daily News: “Gov. LePage wants wind energy goals out of Maine law“. The LePage administration is finally doing what should have been done all along: realistic, science-based assessment whether the rush to wind either saves consumers money or reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Proving the first is easier than the second, because consumers can simply compare their electric bills (on Vinalhaven, those costs are far higher than promised by the Fox Islands Wind supporters). But in both cases, the facts are gradually emerging.

One of the most inconvenient truths about wind power was in view at this week’s hearing in the Maine legislature. The industry is fighting the same way as oil, coal or gas to protect their profits, and subsidies, waging whatever argument fits their bill.

At the Energy, Technology, and Utilities Committee hearing of the Maine legislature, several bills were heard, including one proposed by neighbors of the Vinalhaven wind turbines. We want the Vinalhaven turbines to operate under the same noise standards as newly permitted projects required to meet a 42dbA night-time noise limit and any other standards that are implemented to protect public health. That is a reduction of only 3dbA but it is nevertheless being fiercely resisted by the wind industry.

Our opponents say, “you can’t change the rules in the middle of the game”. Big Tobacco said the same and produced a stream of studies and marketing ploys determined to convince consumers that smoking is good for you.

It remains to be seen, what the Maine legislature will do this session. The pressure is building to revisit many issues rushed through the 2008 Wind Energy Act, that few legislators read much less understood. If this week’s hearing was any indication, special interests associated with wind are buying a lot of lobbying power. Call it: “harnessing the power of wind.”

Reducing noise — even the 3dbA reduction proposed by Vinalhaven wind turbine neighbors — would put existing facilities in line with a very modest change proposed by the Maine Bureau of Environmental Protection in 2011 and incorporated in 2012 DEP rules. The change acknowledges that turbine noise is a public health issue, and one that is coming into increasing focus.

There is another sort of power driving the neighbors of the wind turbines on Vinalhaven, Record Hill, Mars Hill and other towns across the state: that is, the power of property ownership. Pro-wind supporters speculate on benefits of wind power to society. As the economics make clear on Vinalhaven, where electricity rates are far from what the turbine supporters promised, the assumptions about wind power require much closer attention to facts. Neighbors of the wind turbines own property in trust for their families. Who do you imagine will fight harder for what they value: the speculators who live far from the turbines or those who have been forced to accept that their properties are in “sacrifice zones” for the greater good?

LePage wants wind energy goals out of Maine law

By Matthew Stone, BDN Staff
Posted May 09, 2013, at 5:53 p.m.
AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage wants to strip from state law goals for increasing the state’s wind energy capacity over the next two decades.

LePage’s energy director, Patrick Woodcock, made recommendations Thursday to rewrite the state’s 2008 Wind Energy Act, shifting focus from growing wind energy capacity to lowering electricity costs and making sure Maine sees an economic return on its wind energy investments.

The Maine Wind Energy Act, a priority of LePage’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, sought to expedite wind energy development in Maine. The law zoned much of Maine’s Unorganized Territory as suitable for wind development and set goals for the state to have 2,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity by 2015, 3,000 by 2020 and 8,000 by 2030.

Maine’s wind energy capacity today is about 435 megawatts, according to the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

“We are not going to be meeting that goal,” Woodcock said of the 2,000-megawatt threshold by 2015. “I think that it’s an unrealistic goal, and there should be consideration beyond that of whether megawatt capacity installed is really the best metric of our wind energy policies.”

The recommendation from Woodcock to the Legislature’s Energy and Utilities Committee came the same day the Energy Committee heard testimony on a number of bills meant to roll back portions of the 2008 wind energy law, including one measure to temporarily suspend permitting for certain wind developments and another that would eliminate the same wind energy goals LePage favors eliminating. Both of those measures are sponsored by Democrats.

“The intention of our wind energy act was not only to increase wind energy, but to lower electricity costs,” Woodcock said. Rather than setting energy capacity goals, he said, “I believe we should have longer-term goals for electricity prices and for employment in the industry and, ultimately, that Maine is getting value from wind energy.”

LePage has long been critical of state laws he sees as favoring wind energy development and he has blamed wind energy for inflating Maine’s energy prices. However, LePage hopes to use the Maine Wind Energy Act as a model for a plan to fast-track the expansion of natural gas infrastructure in the state.

Woodcock said Thursday the Wind Energy Act needs a comprehensive review so it’s oriented toward ultimately lowering Maine’s electricity costs and fostering new energy-generation industries within the state.

“The intent of growing a wind energy industry in Maine was not just megawatt capacity installed,” he said. “If all these machines are being constructed in another country, I don’t think that’s consistent with the intent of the Legislature. If it’s not lowering energy costs, that’s not the intent of the Legislature.”

The goals for the state to grow its wind energy generation capacity aren’t binding, and erasing them from state law could send a message to potential investors that Maine isn’t interested in wind energy investments, said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.

“What it does is send a strong business signal to investors considering developing wind projects in the Northeast: Maine has aggressive wind power goals,” Payne said.

To add energy price reduction goals to state law wouldn’t be inconsistent with the Maine Wind Energy Act, Payne said. In fact, wind should help Maine diversify its energy mix so it’s less sensitive to energy price swings, he said.

“It’s an inflation-proof fuel,” he said.

Rep. Deane Rykerson, D-Kittery, questioned Woodcock on the singular focus on lowering energy costs.

“The single metric that you use really is, how much does it cost for electricity?” he told Woodcock. “I’m wondering if you ever do consider or plan to consider any other metrics, such as clean air, job creation and greenhouse gas production.”

“I would say the current goals do a poor job of assessing those goals as well,” Woodcock said.

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