There has been a lot of misinformation circulated recently about wind energy in Maine. The people in Maine need to know the facts about wind energy, and what wind energy will mean to the future of our state.
Very simply, the state has a major opportunity to be a regional leader in providing clean renewable energy for the Eastern U.S. Providing wind energy will create many well-paying, diverse jobs, and an opportunity to invest money for energy at home instead of sending it out of state. However, this market is extremely competitive, and our ability to capture a greater share of benefits means we will need to act fast.
Voices argue wind energy does not benefit our state. On one hand they claim wind energy is not economically feasible, and then they complain that wind corporations are getting rich, which is clearly contradictory. In an attempt to scare people about wind energy, opponents cite adverse health effect studies which have absolutely no acceptance in the medical field in Maine — see the Maine CDC Web site, http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/boh/wind-turbines-neuro-acoustical.shtml — or around the world. This resistance comes from people who simply do not want wind energy: they don’t want to see it and they don’t want to hear it. Conceding any environmental, economic, or energy security benefits threatens their position so they exaggerate claims.
These movements are led by people who are not taking into consideration the full effect this opportunity has for Maine. But most of Maine’s residents are concerned with the future of our state and the opportunities for our children to live and work here.
Maine has some of the best onshore wind resources in the Northeast. We are in the center of a U.S. and Canadian region that will see remarkable growth in wind energy in the next decade. Maine also has some of the best offshore wind resources in the world. When you combine the natural resources with a responsible development plan, the result will be demand for labor, equipment and technology.
The state has already seen strong investments — more than $700 million — and job creation from wind during a down economy. When First Wind built the Stetson Mountain project it invested $65 million, of which $50 million was spent on 130 Maine companies hiring Maine people.
However, this is only the tip of the economic iceberg. The bulk of jobs related to wind energy are generated through turbine and blade manufacturing. In order to attract these manufacturing activities you need to establish regional demand and support a stable development atmosphere: the more regional demand, the more manufacturing, and thus the more jobs. When looking at the combined potential of offshore and onshore wind projects in and around Maine this industry could generate as many as 18,000 jobs over the next 20 years. But the jobs will be in Maine only if the supply chain is in Maine.
The jobs we are talking about vary widely among many disciplines. Highly skilled factory technicians, engineers, environmental scientists, service technicians, machinists, composite technicians, accountants and professional services are only a short list of jobs this industry employs.
But here is the rub. If the atmosphere in Maine develops such that each project is picked apart using phony tactics causing unreasonable delays, Maine will have difficulty establishing itself as the Northeast center for demand. Too little demand results in a poorly developed supply chain, which results in stunted job growth. Neighboring states and provinces will build the supply chain and capture those jobs.
Wind energy will be developed in Maine over time. Our country will need the energy, and wind energy is the most efficient and abundant way to produce clean energy. If the state embraces wind now, then we can capture a bountiful future built around this opportunity. But if we do not, then the opportunity will be lost to our neighbors and we will continue to send Maine money out of state for energy-related activities — just as we have done for decades.
If you care about the potential for our state to provide opportunities to keep our youth at home with good jobs and create clean, independent, competitively priced energy, here is your chance to act. Express yourself at town meetings, to your legislators, and to your newspaper, in order to prevent a few self-interested people from standing in the way of a clean Maine energy economy.
Paul Williamson is the coordinator for the Maine Wind Industry Initiative.