Uncertainty in applying state rules will thwart development, investment like Bowers Wind

By Jackson A. Parker, Special to the BDN
Posted Dec. 19, 2013, at 2:17 p.m.

Since 1928, Reed & Reed has been in the business of building things here in Maine. And while we started out solely as a bridge construction company, in our 85-year history we’ve built everything to from roads, to piers, to bridges to wind turbine installations.

Over the years, we’ve racked up a few firsts including the first cable-stayed bridge in Maine and the first commercial-scale wind project in New England. Since that first wind energy project, just seven years ago, Reed & Reed has constructed more than 250 wind turbines throughout New England, including many here in our home state of Maine. In the process, we’ve employed hundreds of Maine people in good-paying jobs and invested millions of dollars in communities throughout the state in support of our projects. These projects provide immediate and long-lasting economic benefits for local communities and for the state by increasing our energy independence and stability and lowering electricity costs.

Growing Maine’s economy is a subject that gets lots of attention, from the pages of this paper to the halls of Augusta, and there are lots of big, often opposing ideas about how to do it. As the leader of a company that’s made its business out of building things — helping other people invest their money and resources in Maine’s economy — I have a suggestion. My suggestion is simple, no-cost and we could start today: Fairly and consistently apply Maine’s existing regulations and laws, especially when it comes to emerging fields like clean energy.

The biggest enemy of investment isn’t lack of capital or skilled labor; it is uncertainty. When businesses can’t count on fair, consistent application of the existing rules, they are understandably nervous about moving forward with projects. Why invest millions in research and development of a proposal if, in the end, there’s no way to predict what state regulators will do? Further, any conversation of simplifying regulations to encourage economic growth — a conversation we should definitely be having — is stifled by the inconsistent application of the rules already on the books.

Take, for example, the Bowers Mountain Wind project, which would straddle Washington and Penobscot counties in Eastern Maine. This project is exactly the kind of investment in our energy future that Maine should be encouraging. First Wind, a company Reed & Reed has been lucky to work with many times, is exactly the kind Maine should be working to attract and keep in Maine. The company has proven itself dedicated to smart development that offers maximum local economic benefits and to hearing and addressing the concerns of the community and of state regulators.

This is a company that has shown it’s willing to play by the rules and be flexible. But then, before any ground can be broken, the rules for them have changed, even though they are the same rules that were in place when First Wind submitted their proposal. The state Department of Environmental Protection has applied a new visual standard — one not supported by existing law — to this project that threatens to thwart this more-than $100 million investment.

The Bowers Mountain project has been carefully crafted and thoughtfully revised to offer maximum local and statewide economic benefit. First Wind has gathered and considered extensive community input and offered significant community benefits to efforts that will complement the project, such as the expansion and improvement of a snowmobile trail linking several wind farms, which have become popular destinations for Maine snowmobilers.

This earnest effort to best serve the community and the state by First Wind has led to the widespread and diverse support this project has earned. At the local level, Carroll Plantation, Kossuth Township and the Passamaquoddy Tribe support the project. An impressive and diverse coalition of statewide groups also backs the project, including the Maine Chapter of the Sierra Club and Environment Maine, to the American Lung Association of the Northeast, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the Maine IBEW and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

Over the last 85 years, we’ve done a tremendous amount of business in Maine, and we hope to do even more in the next 85. We’re willing and eager to put Mainers to work in good-paying jobs and to partner with companies like First Wind to do it. And, we’re willing to play by the rules; we hope the state agencies that regulate these projects are too.

Jackson A. Parker is president and CEO of Reed & Reed, Inc., based in Woolwich.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/12/19/opinion/uncertainty-in-applying-state-rules-will-thwart-development-investment-like-bowers-wind/ printed on July 23, 2014