RUMFORD, Maine — Those opposed to wind energy in western Maine have heard it all. They’ve been called tree huggers, hippies and fanatics, they said.
Their hope is that people can see through the hype and find the reality of what they are trying to present.
“What makes the sight of wind turbines on Maine mountains ugly is the economics,” Chris O’Neil said Thursday. O’Neil is president of Friends of Maine Mountains, a group formed to oppose mountainside wind energy development in western Maine.
“Maine is being used for an inefficient energy source that doesn’t even benefit the state,” O’Neil said.
He spoke to the Sun Journal the same day his organization was sponsoring a lecture by John Droz at the University of Maine in Orono. Droz is a retired physicist who specializes in energy education and public policy.
“Some advertisements say wind energy is free,” Droz said. “Wind is certainly free, but generating electricity from wind is expensive and people need to be aware of these distinctions.”
The main controversy surrounding wind farms is renewable energy certificates, O’Neil said. Maine law requires each electric utility company to purchase a certain percentage of RECs to prove that they are producing renewable energy.
Maine’s goal is to have 10 percent of electricity come from new forms of renewable generation by 2017.
According to O’Neil, Maine wind-farm projects are using false advertisements to buy into these RECs and profit from federal money.
“Wind power is unnecessary, unsustainable, unaffordable and useless,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil pointed out that Maine is already using hydropower as a renewable resource. About 26 percent of the state’s renewable energy comes from hydropower, he said.
An email from the Friends of Maine Mountains says Maine has 4,300 megawatts of electricity generation capacity, though the state’s population uses only 1,500 megawatts, on average.
“This electricity that is going into the grid is not needed in Maine. It’s being sold to lower New England states like Massachusetts,” O’Neil said. “We are sacrificing Maine mountains to trade and sell wind RECs when we already have a better source in hydropower.”
Tom Carroll, project coordinator with Patriot Renewables LLC, which is building wind farms in Dixfield, Woodstock and Carthage, said technically, the electricity his projects are creating is being sold to an entity in Massachusetts.
“It all goes into the grid and gets distributed from there, though. So there is no way to really track who is using whose electricity,” Carroll said.
Friends of Maine Mountains, along with Steve Thurston, a major partner in the anti-wind campaign, has also argued that the number of wind turbines needed to meet the demand of electricity and replace existing power plants would inundate our iconic mountain treasures.
Droz also said in his lecture that wind power is unpredictable. Electricity cannot be stored, even wind energy, and the demand for power isn’t something that can wait for the wind to blow. Droz added that even with wind farms, the nation will still be reliant on sources of electricity that are constant, including burning fossil fuels.
“Wind as an efficient energy source for the country is a false advertisement,” O’Neil said. “It isn’t a sound investment for our state.”