I read in the paper recently that there is a local group forming in Portsmouth, N.H., to prevent the shipment of natural gas through their neighborhood for safety concerns. People in North Carolina are dealing with the effects of a coal ash spill in the Dan River. We all are aware of the oil train disaster in Quebec last year. Secretary of State John Kerry recently presented a legitimate speech on the real, devastating effects from climate change.
We all use energy and share a part of social responsibility in all these issues. Any form of energy has an impact on the world we live in. We are part of the cause of those impacts each time we flip the switch or fuel up. We have been receiving the impacts from energy in Maine for years in the form of acid rain, mercury pollution, poor air quality and lost investment.
Every form of energy also has subsidies. Natural gas has become popular recently because of its low cost. Yet, in a recent agreement, the six governors of New England agreed to increase natural gas infrastructure by adding a subsidy surcharge to all New England electricity ratepayers. One might ask why natural gas needs to be subsidized if it is really so cheap. American taxpayers pay about $4 billion annually to subsidize high-profit fossil fuel companies, which receive many more subsidies than alternative energy.
There has been a lot of opinion in the press about the impacts of wind energy in Maine.
Let’s be clear on the issues. Wind energy is highly visible. That is the impact. There is no hidden poison after the fact that affects our rivers, streams and drinking water. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that wind has no measured adverse health effect, no impact on real estate values, and no measured negative impact on tourism.
Peer-reviewed studies have also shown that wind enhances the local economy, reduces electricity costs and adds price stability, and reduces carbon emissions. Claims to the contrary are all based on faulty information created without following the requirements of proper studies. The state of Iowa has proven these points by generating over 20 percent of its electricity from wind while reducing costs, increasing price stability, reducing carbon and creating a new robust local economy. And yes, you can see wind towers in Iowa.
We have an opportunity in Maine to make our own energy and export it while investing locally and reducing the amount of money we send to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Alberta, Canada for dangerous energy.
There is an old parable about a master giving each of his servants several talents. The master scolds those who waste the gift and rewards those who use it responsibly.
Maine has the gift of abundant natural resources. We have a moral obligation to use those resources responsibly and make our own investments in improving the environment as a whole, not just protecting the view from our back yard. Wind still represents a small amount in the whole New England energy picture, but it is growing.
Some argue that wind energy in Maine cannot make a large enough difference to improve the global environment. Sponsoring one child in a third-world country does not end world hunger for millions of children, but it does make a difference. Excuses do not remove our obligations to make morally responsible decisions.
We have a moral obligation to take every step we can to be part of the solution. And in this particular case, we also gain so many net benefits.
Reflect back to the real issues up for discussion: It can be seen, it enhances local economy, it creates a resource we all use that is also a high-value export commodity, and it improves the environment. When I weigh these issues against dollars going away to support coal ash spills, train explosions, mercury pollution and global warming, the choice seems pretty clear to me.
Paul Williamson is director of the Maine Ocean and Wind Industry Initiative.