2015-01-27 / Commentary

Maine: The wind energy plantation — Part I

BY PAUL ACKERMAN

The advertising flyer supplementing many electric bills in Maine presents the smiling visage of a hardylooking, flannel-clad “lineman” extolling the virtues of the electric utility upgrading the grid to improve reliability for Maine consumers. Approximately $1.56 billion dollars has been spent on electric grid upgrades and improvements. If this were all spent to benefit Maine electric customers (even in a long-term view) that would be a credible plus for the power companies. We’d be happy not to have major power failures for days or weeks on end — as some experienced earlier this winter due to storm damage — and that is the preventative rationale implied by the utility companies advertising and press releases.

However, when one begins to unravel the tangled web of Maine’s energy policies, and looks at who actually writes them and promotes the passage of legislation, and for whose benefit they exist, a very different reality begins to intrude. Wind developers have enormous financial resources, and will utilize them to legislatively force their agenda on Maine. It is not about generating “green power” for Maine, it is about money and political clout, involving a maze of federal money, grants, tax breaks, and sweetheart deals.

Recently an article in the BDN headlined, “CMP, Emera team up for wind project — Aroostook County farm would be state’s largest”. The article goes on to state, “the transmission plan to connect the planned 250 megawatt wind farm to New England’s grid would allow developer EDP Renewables to move ahead with requesting permits for the project from the Dept. of Environmental Protection in the coming weeks.” The report also reveals that EDPR, the wind developer, has “already secured power purchase agreements in Connecticut.”

So, they get an agreement to sell the power in another state before they even have a permit in place to build the wind turbines, or even more significantly, before the Maine ratepayers of CMP and Emera (without knowing it) pay for the transmission lines to get the power to the grid out of state! By the way, until last year Connecticut law prohibited the construction of wind turbines within Connecticut. Only because of the expiration of Federal tax credits in 2015 did they lift their ban on construction in-state. Money talks.

Another industry giant, First Wind, after being denied permits for a third time (by DEP and BEP) for their Bowers Mountain project, arrogantly went ahead nine days later and signed a 15-year agreement with National Grid, a utility that supplies electricity to customers in Rhode Island and surrounding states. This agreement promises to have the Bowers Mountain project up, running and sending power to Rhode Island by March 2017. How did Maine become the “green energy plantation” for outside interests? Read on.

The Wind Energy Act of 2008, promoted as an emergency measure by Gov. Baldacci, effectively allowed the wind industry lobbyists to write their own law. Suppress competition from hydropower, fine. Eliminate local controls such as zoning and regional impact, fine. Don’t want to be held to an industry code of ethics, fine. Included in this law was a restriction on the import to or production of hydropower in Maine of over 100 Megawatts. So even though we could be importing cheaper hydropower from Hydro Quebec, certainly a renewable energy source, we are prohibited from doing so in order to benefit the uneconomical wind industry. Famed investor Warren Buffet has been quoted as saying, “I will do anything that is covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate…For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

Recently, the industry representatives came back to then-Maine Senate President, Justin Alfond, with a way to maneuver around the LePage administration’s opposition to industrial wind. Modestly titled L.D.1750, “An act to amend the Maine Administrative Procedure Act and clarify wind energy laws,” it is a textbook example of how an industry runs the legislative process for their interests. Mr. Alfond was very accommodating to their attorneys and lobbyists, as the many pages of emails reviewed by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting clearly showed. The lobbyists and lawyers for the wind industry wrote the bill, and coordinated with Alfond and staff to maneuver it through the legislative process.

A summary from LD 1750:

“This bill amends the Maine Administrative Procedure Act by amending the definition of "rule" and requiring that every agency decision be based on the best evidence available to the agency. The bill also amends the laws governing expedited wind energy developments to provide that in determining the tangible benefits of an expedited wind energy development, the primary siting authority may not require the submission of evidence of the energy and emissions-related benefits or make specific findings related to energy and emissions-related benefits. Those benefits are presumed.

The bill also provides that in determining whether a proposed expedited wind energy development will have an unreasonable adverse effect on scenic character or existing uses and whether an applicant must provide a visual impact assessment, the primary siting authority is required to consider the energy and emissions related benefits of the expedited wind energy development, the policy objectives of the Maine Wind Energy Act and the energy, environmental and economic benefits associated with the expedited wind energy development.”

Apparently, political agendas trump factual evidence or citizen input in these situations. If the proponents say there are benefits, but are not required to provide credible proof, you have to believe them anyway. Their policy objectives clearly override any of your concerns. Thankfully, Gov. LePage vetoed the bill and the Senate failed to override, but don’t get too complacent. They’ll be back.

Part 2 will delve into other aspects of Big Wind, including the contradiction of Maine environmental organizations taking donations from First Wind and other industry interests to soften their views of industrial wind.

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Another View, a Maine Press Association award-winning column, is written on a rotating basis by a member of a group of Mid-coast citizens that meet to discuss issues they think are of public interest.

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