Blustering rhetoric doesn’t advance wind power debate

By Lisa Pohlmann and Ted Koffman, Special to the BDN
Posted Sept. 02, 2011, at 7:08 p.m.

The opinion piece by Jonathan Carter (BDN, July 13) on wind power and, specifically, the proposed wind project at Bowers Mountain, contained extreme exaggeration and inaccurate information, while also raising some legitimate concerns. We attempt to address these here.

Wind power does work to reduce global warming pollution, despite claims to the contrary. It reduces the amount of fossil fuels we are burning at utility generators. Electricity grid managers use wind energy to reduce fuel burning at gas or oil power plants whenever it is available, because those high-cost fuels are the most expensive to operate. Each kilowatt hour produced from a wind turbine displaces a kilowatt hour of fossil fuel-generated power.

The majority of Maine people show strong support for wind power in Maine, as shown in public opinion polls. Most people understand the need for clean, renewable energy and want to give wind a try in Maine.

No source of energy production is a panacea, including wind. The overriding concern is where wind farms should be sited so that they have the least possible impact on people, wildlife and the natural character of Maine that we and thousands of visitors enjoy.

Wind power decisions are guided by policies the state established in 2008 for the permitting of wind projects, which are currently being reviewed. The state will reassess our wind development goals and how wind turbines impact people and the environment.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Audubon continue to evaluate realistic goals for wind power development and the best avenues for maximizing its benefits and minimizing its negative impacts, given current knowledge and technology. For example, wind generators can now be effective at lower wind speeds and elevations, allowing us to consider sites where there may be fewer conflicts.

We recognize there are legitimate concerns about wind power development and its potential impacts on scenic and recreational resources and on wildlife, such as birds and bats. As for the proposed Bowers site, we agree that the Downeast lakes deserve special consideration. But Carter’s description of the impacts at Bowers is limited to extreme rhetoric, with words such as “carnage” and “desecration” and the use of unsubstantiated and inaccurate claims about impact to birds and bats.

In contrast, Maine Audubon reviewed the wildlife surveys for Bowers and made comparisons to other sites and the scientific literature. Audubon identified a potential impact to bats, whose populations across the nation have plummeted in recent years from a disease, making it especially important to seriously consider any additional adverse impact.

NRCM and Maine Audubon support the science-based recommendations of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for adjustments in operations and further study at Bowers in order to ensure impact on bats are not significant.

Similarly, NRCM submitted detailed testimony outlining specific scenic and recreational resources that would be impacted by the Bowers project, including who uses the area and how those users might be affected. There are multiple lakes of “statewide scenic significance” in the area, and NRCM has found that there would be very adverse impacts to some of these lakes and their users. NRCM ultimately took a position neither for nor against the project, providing a detailed analysis of the pros and cons for policymakers’ deliberation.

We believe that from both an environmental and an economic standpoint, Maine must continue to pursue ways to increase our energy independence and reduce our over-reliance on fossil fuels. Opposing every wind project that has any impact leaves Maine stuck in a status quo of coal, oil and natural gas dependence.

Harnessing the clean, renewable power of wind needs to be part of our energy mix. Fortunately, doing so is already creating significant benefits for the Maine economy and taxpayers through job creation, property tax reductions and other community benefits.

The work of finding good wind power sites with the lowest impact deserves serious effort. NRCM and Maine Audubon have worked hard to evaluate and weigh in on specific wind power proposals, balancing the need for clean energy with the need to conserve habitat.

Maine can support renewable energy and maintain its special places and high value resources. Continuing to explore and discuss the right balance is important and we will be fully engaged, with respect for all perspectives and credible, science-backed information.

Lisa Pohlmann is executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Ted Koffman is executive director of Maine Audubon.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/09/02/opinion/contributors/blustering-rhetoric-doesn%e2%80%99t-advance-wind-power-debate/ printed on December 17, 2014