Wind power’s assault on Maine

Posted Nov. 23, 2010, at 5:56 p.m.
This artwork by Mark Weber relates to wind power.
Mark Weber
This artwork by Mark Weber relates to wind power.

Three dozen protesters huddled in ponchos in cold rain, holding signs denouncing First Wind’s turbine construction project in Lincoln on Nov. 5. While most of us stood legally on the side of the road, five brave people intentionally stood in the road, blocking construction traffic, including an 82-year-old man. The arrests that followed have focused much needed attention on the wind industry’s well-planned assault on our state.

The devastation that will result from this assault, thousands of turbines on ridges throughout the state, comes from collusion among three allies — the wind industry (big companies such as General Electric that builds turbines, transformers, smart meters), powerful politicians like Gov. John Baldacci and former Gov. Angus King and environmental groups whose mission has changed from protecting Maine’s environment to saving the planet from climate change. This threesome managed in four years to reverse 40 years of environment and public health protection.

People opposed to the sacrifice of Maine’s landscape have the deck stacked against them. Laws in place prevent citizens from challenging the economic and environmental assumptions used to justify wind power. The cumulative effects of multiple wind projects are ignored by the agencies responsible for protecting our environment and wildlife habitats.

How did this happen?

In 2003, newly elected Gov. Baldacci declares that Maine should become a “leader in climate change.” He orders David Littell, head of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to develop a Climate Change Action Plan to protect Maine from global warming. The result was the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first mandatory cap-and-trade system for CO2 emissions in U.S. history. Littell is the chairman.

Under RGGI, baseload electricity generators are forced to purchase ever-increasing amounts of pollution waivers. The cost, hundreds of millions of dollars to date, is passed on to ratepayers. Some of this money is given to wind developers in the form of renewable energy credits and is an essential subsidy without which wind power would not exist. The rest of the money disappears into numerous state agencies.

Ironically, cap-and-trade has died at the federal level. But RGGI makes electricity more expensive and hurts Maine’s ability to compete with the rest of the country to attract new business.

RGGI was the beginning of many new laws, which slowly legalized the methodical sacrifice of Maine mountains and landscape on the unproved assumption that wind turbines will make a difference to global warming. In 2004, the Legislature directed the Public Utilities Commission to study selected issues regarding wind power development in Maine. In 2005 the PUC recommended that Maine modify its standards “to allow consideration of environmental benefits of wind power,” and that the public be educated about wind power’s climate benefits.

In other words, DEP and Land Use Regulation Commission have given the green light to those who would bulldoze and blast the mountains, kill birds, erect 400-foot wind towers in venerated mountains. And the PUC has been told to allow massive transmissions lines serving remote wind turbine projects to be built at ratepayer expense.

Kurt Adams, friend and chief legal counsel of Gov. Baldacci, became chairman of the PUC. Three years later he would become vice president of transmission for First Wind, the most active wind developer in the state. In fact, while still at the PUC he received stock options from First Wind.

In fall 2007, Gov. Baldacci convened a task force to identify obstacles to wind power and recommend an expedited permitting process. Led by the industry and pro-wind politicians and environmentalist, the task force concocted an absurd and dictatorial report that called for sweeping changes in our environmental laws. It would remove virtually all obstacles to the unconscionable destruction of Maine’s mountains for the benefit of the wind industry.

The concept of “tangible benefits” made it possible for the wind industry to bribe communities with all sorts of promises: new firetrucks, the ability to keep their local schools, free electricity, TIF payments. What was not said was that the money to pay for these things depended on massive subsidies from the federal government, which account for two-thirds of the cost of wind-generated electricity.

Wind power has created deep divisions in Maine’s towns, and some people’s lives have been devastated by turbine noise. Many others are suffering from grief over the destruction of their rural environment.

Confronted with such a stacked deck, the Friends of Lincoln Lakes had no chance to stop this project. We protested the injustice. We will not stop protesting until the laws protecting Maine’s environment are restored and wind turbines are banished from the landscape.

Monique Aniel of Mexico is a retired physician and co-chairwoman of the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power.

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