Maine’s rush to develop wind power is ill-advised

Posted Sept. 08, 2010, at 6:27 p.m.

I believe Maine’s governor and other public servants are dedicated to making our state a better place, but when they become carried away by a tide of one-sided allegations, the public is not well-served.

They should have pursued wind power with caution since the governments of every European country that has tried it have discontinued their subsidies. They said they did so because wind is more expensive than natural gas and other alternatives, and because wind power can contribute to pollution during the 70 percent of the time turbines produce so little.

Denmark is the prime wind power model, but that nation imports as much coal today as it did before it installed its 6,000 turbines. Danes admit wind has not reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

Yet, Maine is embracing wind power. I believe the reasons are because policy is being made by wind and other companies and by state officials with nontechnical degrees.

Wind power companies dominate the Internet, but alternative voices are there. All TV networks for weeks carried the remarks of now-silent T. Boone Pickens with his plan to have wind turbines installed throughout the Great Plains wind corridor. According to Robert Bryce in his fine new book, “Power Hungry,” Pickens has cost his investors over a billion dollars.

In Maine, individual homeowners have been victimized. One who paid $16,000 for a wind unit kept a record of the power generated. It will take him over 200 years to recover costs.

The governor’s task force on energy, the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the consulting firms that provided the blueprint for Maine’s energy future did not have a single energy engineer as members. Yet, they promulgated a new $200 million state agency to oversee all energy aspects, including wind.

I attended two PUC hearings on the $200 million master plan hoping to learn the state’s reasons for including wind power, but there was no mention. University of Maine engineering professors told the commissioners they could not adequately evaluate the plan because it contained no technical data.

Then Michael Stoddard, director of the Efficiency Maine Trust, stated that its consulting firms were not selected for their energy engineering knowledge but for planning expertise. The professors’ request for scientific information was met by the PUC’s Order No. 1, stating all technical data on which the plan was based was to be classified confidential. Citizens would have 10 days to submit written commentaries without access. I think the reason for the gag order is not to protect proprietary information but to hide the fact there are so little technical data.

Also, with little public input, our leaders accommodated First Wind and other firms by authorizing a $1.5 billion “upgrade” to Maine’s transmission lines. Maine has been exporting electricity to southern New England for years on existing lines, but with wind, those companies need lines with additional capacity. New lines will handle surges when wind is blowing hard. Maine customers will pay 8 percent of the cost of this unnecessary “upgrade.”

Today, Mainers pay about 17 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity. The new power lines will add another few cents. Meanwhile, HydroQuebec has just renewed its contract with Vermont to supply power for 26 years at 6 cents per kwh. HydroQuebec wanted to come to Maine but were rebuffed in the 1980s. HydroQuebec may still want to come here. No state official noticeably has been advocating it.

The PUC did not welcome expert discussion of the master plan in another way. When authorization of the new transmission line was under consideration, the PUC insisted that Bangor Hydro and Central Maine Power stipulate they would “agree to publicly support and not … oppose, funding levels” for all of the programs contained in the $200 million plan. The stipulation silenced yet another potential source of engineering information.

With the addition of expensive wind, and even more expensive off-shore wind, and the cost of the new power line, Maine people cannot look forward to lower rates. Yet we will be in economic competition with Vermont and other states. Our future should be with hydro and natural gas, not wind power.

But the saddest thing to me is the way the public has been discouraged from participation and from knowing the best that is thought and known about the complexities of the energy world.

Clyde MacDonald of Hampden was an aide to Sens. Edmund Muskie and George Mitchell.

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