May 27, 2018
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Which way is the wind blowing us?

By Steve Bien, Special to the BDN

The Copenhagen climate conference ended in disarray but succeeded in pointing out the enormity of the challenges and international discord around climate change. More importantly and of greater concern to me, it showed how monetized this particular scientific notion has become, and this does not auger well for the reasoned discussion we will really need.

Lost in the clamor are the nuances of opinion that are vital to understand what is really going on. Close reading of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, for example, reveals a great deal of controversy about the role of carbon dioxide and other anthropogenic gases in the drivers of climate. There is even disagreement as to what the world climate past really has been, depending whether you read ice cores, pollen samples, ocean sediments or thermometers.

Unfortunately, when money talks, it’s hard to walk. Right now the Land Use Regulation Commission is considering the rules for expanding the territory in Maine which will be fast tracked for wind development. They are supposed to be independent stewards of our natural resource assets, but they are getting strong pressure to bend their mission around the faulty economic goals hatched elsewhere in Augusta. At the very least they should be encouraged to keep in mind their core values to prevent sprawl and protect Maine’s resources for all Mainers.

It is unclear where this enthusiasm for wind power will take us. The Wind Power Task Force has set a minimum of 2000 mw of wind power by 2015 as a state goal, and this means wind turbines on hundreds of miles of Maine’s ridge lines. The Task Force guidelines were hastily pushed through the Legislature in emergency legislation last year to help prevent global warming. But has anyone examined this plan?

Germany has taken wind power as far as any country, but a recent analysis there fails to show any carbon savings from wind. Germany’s success in shrinking their carbon emissions has come from their cap and trade system and the fact that wind and solar subsidies have driven their utility prices to be the highest in Europe.

In Germany, as here, because of the need for back up power, no wind project has ever taken a fossil fuel power plant off line. And running natural gas power plants behind wind in backup mode actually increases fuel use and carbon emissions to an extent that negates the carbon savings.

Of course this is not what we hear in Maine where wind is somehow our next big industry. Except it hasn’t been. The Kibby project was supposed to be a cash cow for Franklin County, but after the deal, TransCanada had to hit up the Franklin County Commissioners for tax breaks to continue.

And now TransCanada is anxious to expand its operation to the north near Sisk if they can capture the stimulus package money you and I are paying for. As for the promised economic boost — after the initial installation very few jobs remain at any of these sites, and very few of them go to local people once the trees are cut down and the last of the gravel is poured.

I am not smart enough to know the climate future, but I would not bet Maine’s future – the future of our forests, landscapes and economy – on the headlined forecasts of doom. All of us who live here know that our way of life and our jobs are inextricably tied to the way Maine looks and feels.

Lest this seem only a sentimentalist’s notion, recall that the Brookings report on Maine’s economy said essentially the same thing. Maine has an aging population, and it is our reputation for a way of life and the availability of a certain kind of recreation that draws young workers and their families here.

We should certainly exercise common sense in decreasing our energy use and increasing our energy efficiency wherever possible. But we should not hastily industrialize our landscape.

Steve Bien is a physician who lives in Jay.

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