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 Summer 2008

Article by Ramona du Houx

Last March, at the celebrations of the Mars Hill Wind Power facility being in operation for a year, Governor John Baldacci said, “This is just the start. It’s time to tap into Maine’s natural resources to give us a cleaner and greener source of energy … We have the natural resources and the geography to become energy independent.”

More people are looking for ways to obtain energy from clean resources and would like to work with the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If they live in a state that supplies clean energy, they are reducing their carbon footprint, which has become increasingly important to many people living in Maine.

With wind power and new agreements with New Brunswick, the state is on the path of becoming an electricity-producing hub which will lower electricity prices for homes and businesses, while exporting energy to the rest of New England.

“We will be a part of the solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by using renewable energy; New England will get the energy that it needs, and at the same time we are helping to protect our national security. We want to make Maine’s effort a national call to action,” said Baldacci.

Part of that effort was approved unanimously during the last session of Maine’s Legislature, with Governor Baldacci’s bill to streamline the permitting process for wind development.

“This is a huge opportunity to be a part of the energy solution for the nation, as well as for our own economic development. This bill recognizes that we need to remove barriers to wind development, so we can move forward with environmental protection, energy security, protecting Maine’s quality of place, and economic growth,” said Baldacci at the bill’s signing. “It’s just one of those things that makes common sense.”

But until the governor’s efforts it hadn’t been done.

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The bill calls for developing at least 2,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power in Maine by 2015 and at least 3,000 MW by 2020. This level of wind power development would make Maine the top wind-power generating state in the eastern United States. The legislation was carefully developed to ensure that wind power is developed in a fashion that protects Maine’s quality of place.

“Today’s action will put Maine on the map as being a crusader in New England for clean power generation. The benefits will include billions of dollars worth of new investment, tens of millions of dollars in property tax revenues, hundreds of new jobs, reduced global-warming pollution, and increased energy security,” said NRCM Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “This is truly a win-win for Maine people and our environment.”

“There are so many ripple benefits from this effort. Spin-off projects already include composite research being conducted at UMO on windmill blades, so hopefully in the near future a Maine company will be manufacturing them. Right now component parts are being developed in a fabricating shop in Newport,” said the governor. “There will be an increase in manufacturing jobs, which are equivalent to five retail jobs, in terms of pay and benefits. Businesses will get better, stable electrical rates; more job opportunities will arise and consumer spending will be up.”

Karin Tilberg, the governor’s policy adviser, agreed that Maine will benefit from this legislation in a myriad of ways, “So many interests came together working in the taskforce, it was wonderful to work with everyone. It’s a great opportunity for economic development using innovative technologies, while protecting Maine’s quality of place, the environment, and looking out for our communities and businesses,” she said.

The legislation improves the permitting process for wind-power projects, establishes expedited permitting areas, requires that wind-power projects provide tangible benefits to the people of Maine, and promotes development of community-level wind power.

ead866ae8b011243-windpower2Alec Griffen spoke at the bill signing thanking the wind taskforce. Griffen was instrumental in the success of the wind taskforce he chaired. Photo by Ramona du Houx

The legislation implements the consensus recommendations of a16-member taskforce established in 2007, which finalized its work in February, issuing a report titled Finding Common Ground for a Common Purpose. The taskforce included Democrat and Republican state legislators, representatives of wind developers, staff of environmental organizations, state agency officials, and citizens.

“Climate change is a global problem, but solutions will happen at the state and local levels. Because Maine has a strong wind resource, we can be a leader in wind-power development as part of our response to climate change,” said Didisheim.

The Wind Power Task Force learned that current and projected technology advances are enabling developers to pursue wind projects in Maine at lower elevation sites and with lower wind speeds than were considered the cutoff for economically viable projects even a few years ago. This means that wind power will be developed in many parts of the state in coming years and not exclusively on high-elevation ridges as may have previously been assumed. Within a decade, economically viable projects may also be developed in marine waters off Maine’s coastline.

Currently, a 42 MW wind farm is operating in Mars Hill, a 57 MW project, the Stetson Wind Farm, has been approved for construction, and a 132 MW project, the Kibby Wind Farm, has also been approved. Several permit applications for wind projects are expected to be submitted during 2008, including for a project that could eventually be 800 MW in size, slated for Aroostook County. New York is the leading wind-power state in the Northeast and is expected to have more than 1,000 MW of installed wind power before the end of 2008.

Maine’s new wind-power call to action created by this bill has the goal for developing at least 2,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power in Maine by 2015 and at least 3,000 MW by 2020. This level of wind power development would make Maine the top wind-power-generating state in the Eastern United States.