Renewable energy critic misinformed

Posted Sept. 27, 2010, at 8:48 p.m.

As director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security and as a board member of the Efficiency Maine Trust, I am writing to clarify several misrepresentations and inaccuracies presented by Clyde MacDonald in his guest column “Maine’s rush to develop wind power is ill-advised” (BDN, Sept. 10).

First, Maine’s energy policy is rooted in the fact that our nation, region and state have become dangerously dependent on unreliable, insecure and expensive foreign fossil fuels. This reliance costs Maine residents billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year; contributes to environmental pollution and climate change; underminesour economic vitality; erodes our public health; and diminishes the quality of life of all Maine families. Gov. John Baldacci and the Legislature are committed to reversing that trend and to charting a course to a cleaner, healthier, more secure, more affordable and more reliable energy future.

Accordingly, in 2009, the governor submitted and the Legislature adopted the first comprehensive energy plan for the state. It addresses energy supply, infrastructure and demand issues and promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency and conservation strategies.

In 2010, the governor and the Legislature established an independent, quasi-governmental entity called the Efficiency Maine Trust to focus exclusively on implementing energy efficiency programs and small renewable energy projects (such as a solar panel or pellet boiler) at a customer’s home or business. The trust’s three-year implementation plan is consistent with the policies adopted in the state’s comprehensive energy plan and is the product of a diverse, volunteer board of trustees representing energy consumers, such as paper mills, low-income customers, retail stores and experts in energy and building systems.

The trustees developed a plan designed to lower customers’ energy bills, to reach every corner of the state and to promote energy efficiency as the state’s most plentiful, affordable and local energy resource. It did not anywhere mention or address wind generation such as Mr. MacDonald describes, because the trust has no authority, no funds and no involvement with commercial, grid-scale wind projects.

Second, MacDonald asserts that “every European country that has tried [wind subsidies-tax incentives] has abandoned them.” This is absolutely false. The European Union is installing more wind power capacity than any other form of energy. Not only has the 27-member EU recently passed or revised a host of tax credits, financial incentives, feed-in tariffs and priority access to the grid for renewable wind and solar power, but they also have set a goal to generate 100 percent of their electricity renewably by 2050 and have imposed financial penalties for nations that fail to meet their renewable energy goals.

Third, it is incredible that MacDonald would assert that Central Maine Power Co.’s electric transmission line, the Maine Power Reliability Project, was developed to accommodate a private wind development company. The MPRP, which had several years of public deliberations before the Public Utilities Commission was an ISO New England-approved reliability project and considered essential to meet reliability and safety standards set by state and regional regulatory agencies.

In addition, MacDonald claims all “Mainers pay 17 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity,” but according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average retail rate for Maine residential-, commercial- and business-delivered costs of electricity is between 8 and 15 cents per kwh.

MacDonald further claims that Vermont’s recent deal with Hydro-Quebec will provide electricity at 6 cents per kwh. The HQ agreement actually pegs the price to the wholesale market with the contract starting at about 6 cents per kwh and being adjusted annually, but this includes only the price for generation, not delivery. In Maine, the price for generation for small and medium sized business customers is 6.3 cents per kwh.

Fourth, he alleges that the PUC and the Efficiency Maine Trust did not welcome expert testimony on the recently adopted Triennial Energy Plan and that state officials did not reach out to Hydro-Quebec to bring low-cost hydropower to Maine, as Vermont state officials did. As a member of the board of the EMT, I can assure all Maine residents that our meetings regarding the Triennial Plan were open, broadcast on the Internet, welcomed public comment and were civil.

Finally, the governor has hosted several meetings with the premier of Quebec to bring cheaper and more reliable power from HQ to Maine. Earlier this year, I personally met with HQ officials to encourage them to consider the development of power projects in Maine.

These allegations were unfair to the governor, the Legislature, the PUC, the board and staff of the Efficiency Maine Trust and to the residents of Maine.

John M. Kerry is director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security.

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