Kibby Wind Farm in Western Maine, photo by Ramona du Houx
Editorial by Jeremy N. Payne
Maine has a tremendous opportunity to reduce the cost of energy and protect the environment by investing in and supporting the development of clean, renewable energy such as wind power.
Despite low-by-comparison prices for oil, electricity rates in Maine are going up, right as winter starts to really bear down on the state.
Those price hikes are due in part to the fact that Maine — and all of New England — rely heavily upon natural gas for the majority of electricity production and, like all fossil fuels, the price of natural gas is volatile.
It fluctuates with changes in supply and demand in other parts of the world, which is why it’s impossible to predict with certainty what will happen with natural gas prices in the future.
Maine needs is to protect itself against price spikes and changes in the world energy market.
The best way to do that is by investing and supporting clean, renewable energy — such as wind power.
Unlike natural gas, wind power can protect energy consumers because it can guarantee prices as part of long-term contracts.
With no fuel costs, wind power allows the people who operate Maine’s electrical grid to lock in low prices for 20 years. No matter what happens with the price of oil or gas, no matter how cold it gets or how long winter lasts, that electricity at that lower rate is guaranteed.
And the benefits go beyond lower prices.
Renewable energy, such as wind power, can reduce pollution by displacing higher cost and dirtier forms of energy. That’s good for the climate, and it’s good for people’s health.
According to the American Lung Association, the burning of fossil fuel is a major source of air pollution and a cause of lung cancer. This is especially true in Maine, where we end up being the tail pipe for many other Midwest states’ burning of coal.
Supporting the continued development of wind farms also is good for our economy and job creation.
A recent Maine Technology Institute (“MTI”) report, “Charting Maine’s Technology Potential,” found that alternative energy and turbines are one of our fastest growing sectors.
MTI determined that this sector increased jobs by nearly 12 percent from 2007-2012.
In addition, companies involved in renewable energy have invested more than $1.5 billion in Maine in the last eight years, which has directly benefited more than 750 Maine businesses, and has provided important local dollars in our rural communities.
A great example of this local benefit is happening in the town of Roxbury, which hosts the Record Hill wind farm. Roxbury residents receive checks for $111 every three months, and their tax rate in 2012 dropped by 59 percent thanks to the investment in wind power.
Soon, Orland may be able to benefit from locally produced wind energy as well.
In 2013, the town overwhelmingly voted in favor of a three-turbine wind power project that would follow the strictest state, local and federal regulations.
In total, the project would generate enough clean electricity to power 2,700 average Maine homes and it would provide at least $150,000 a year in property tax revenue that can be used to improve local schools, fix local roads and invest in the community.
At a time when state and local budgets are increasingly under pressure to cut costs, commercial investments such as the one in Roxbury and the proposed project in Orland create new clean energy jobs and help towns hold down property taxes for everyone.
We have a choice in Maine: Are we going to allow ourselves to be overly reliant on one source of energy? Or, will we make enough room at the energy table for Maine-made, clean, renewable energy that provides jobs, opportunity, local tax revenues and protects our environment?
The benefits are clear — as clear as the air and water we all want to protect. Renewable energy, including wind power, is the kind of investment our state should welcome.
Jeremy N. Payne is executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association