LePage Right on Wind

Posted Dec. 20, 2010, at 7:10 p.m.

Gov.-elect Paul LePage was right to bluntly, unequivocally oppose a call for a moratorium on wind power in the state. Wind power’s opponents raise legitimate concerns about this burgeoning alternative energy source. Some of those concerns can be mitigated, some cannot. But it is very likely that wind power will find a secure place in Maine’s energy portfolio in the coming years and decades.

To push the pause button now will allow other states to become powerful energy brokers in the energy-hungry Northeast, potentially leaving Maine on the sidelines.

A coalition of groups that represent outdoors-oriented businesses, including the Maine Professional Guides Association, the Maine Sporting Camps Association and the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed called for a six-month moratorium and the repeal of a state law that provides for expedited permitting for wind power projects.

Many of the vociferous opponents of wind power blamed Gov. John Baldacci for the expedited permitting law, and so may have expected the next governor to be sympathetic to their concerns. But the new administration knows Maine can ill afford political pandering in this economic climate.

Wind turbines built on Maine’s ridges, hills and mountains command attention. Historic views are altered, the roads and staging areas create deep scars on the land, and those whose homes are within earshot of the “whump, whump” sound the blades make are adversely affected.

A cluster of blades spinning 400 feet above the ground along a ridge cannot be disguised or hidden. This diminished aesthetic is one of the prices we must pay for energy, just as we endure gas stations, tanker trucks and ships, and air pollution associated with petroleum-based energy.

The roads blasted and carved to the tops of mountains and ridges are a legitimate environmental concern. Existing state law can require better remediation, though road access is essential for turbine maintenance. Like the transmission line corridors that crisscross the Maine landscape, these roads are part of the price we must pay.

The sounds turbines make, which disrupt the peaceful enjoyment of people’s homes, is a problem the industry and lawmakers must confront. Setbacks and noise levels must reflect concern for homeowners.

Opponents who object to any of wind power’s effects also build arguments on what they say are the suspect economics of the energy. They must remember that wind power has yet to reach the production levels that will bring economies of scale. When wind power provides a greater percentage of the grid’s electricity needs, the economics will change. As the industry hits its stride, tax breaks will be rolled back. And if wind power is developed in concert with state R&D support, the hardware could soon be manufactured here in Maine, creating jobs.

Mr. LePage’s spokesman Dan Demeritt was wise in saying that adopting moratoriums “is not how we intend to do business in Maine.” Laws must continue to evolve so wind power can be regulated to protect residents and maximize its economic affect, but putting the industry into a six-month deep freeze is not the answer.

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