e369865bcfd3e9fa-naturalresources

March/April 2008

Article and graphics by Ramona du Houx

Maine could be leading the New England area in a few years by providing energy from renewable energy sources.

“Maine’s natural resources are second to none,” said the governor. “There is tremendous potential for Maine to become a leader in clean, renewable energy — wind, wood, and new technologies like tidal power are just a few. I want Maine to develop energy resources that utilize our natural resources, put people to work in good-paying jobs and reduce energy prices.”

2wwind-du-houx-kibWIND POWER —

A report issued in February by the Governor’s Wind Task Force calls for at least 2,000 megawatts (MW) of wind power in Maine by 2015 and 3,000 MW by 2020, as part of a strategy to increase energy security, provide economic stimulus, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This momentous report could play a major role in helping Maine reduce its dependence on fossil fuels through clean, renewable energy,” said NRCM Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim who served as a member of the task force. “Because Maine has a strong wind resource, we can be a leader in wind power development as part of our response to climate change. This report will help us do so by guiding projects to the right areas, ensuring that the right studies are done, and creating a permitting process that makes sense for wind power.”

The task force recommends specific changes to Maine’s permitting processes to make them more predictable and consistent, and to ensure common regulatory approaches by Maine’s DEP and Land Use Regulation Commission.

The task force identified Expedited Permitting Areas comprising nearly two-thirds of the state, 14 million acres.

“I hope the suggestions made by the task force are implemented as quickly and smoothly as possible,” said Catherine Carroll, director of LURC. “Projects located in the so-called expedited zones would eliminate the need for a rezoning process to take place. This shift in the regulatory process could theoretically greatly reduce the time and resources used within these regions by both the state and public.”

Presently, a 42 MW wind farm is operating in Mars Hill, a 57 MW project, Stetson Wind Farm, has been approved, and a 132 MW project, Kibby Wind Farm, is expected to receive final permit approvals this spring.

The task force concluded that the goals established for 2015 and 2020 are achievable and will send a clear signal that Maine intends to be a major player in the Northeast in hosting wind power — and securing the economic and environmental benefits provided by such projects.

“I am pleased to see the level of wind power development endorsed by this report, which would involve billions of dollars of capital investment in Maine,” said the governor.

The governor announced his intention to move quickly to incorporate the task force’s suggestions into a governor’s bill for consideration in this legislative session.

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WOOD-BASED ENERGY —

Researchers at the University of Maine (UM) have developed technology to convert wood byproducts into cellulosic ethanol. This commercially viable ethanol could in the not-so-distant future be filling up your gas tank.

Brazil started its ethanol program in 1975 and now biofuels made from sugar cane are meeting their energy needs. Over 90 percent of cars sold there in 2006 were flex-fuel vehicles able to burn both gasoline and ethanol.

Using wood for ethanol and other wood products technologies could fuel Maine’s economy. Maine is a forest-rich state which has a long tradition in logging and forestry.

Red Shield Enviromental has turned one product into three: ethanol, acetic acid and pulp. Red Shield is a prime example of the type of industry that could spring up across the state. This environmentally renewable energy company bought the Georgia Pacific paper mill in Old Town and is turning wood waste into energy. These types of processing plants and refineries are going to be in demand.

RSE Pulp, a subsidiary of Red Shield, intends to use grant funds it received from the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) to continue research and development efforts to integrate the UMO’s patent-pending process to create alternative fuels and chemicals from wood chips.

The process, hemicellulose, can be extracted from woodchips using existing pulp facilities infrastructures.

Jobs in the area of renewable energy production and green building will grow with more companies like Red Shield. These green-collar jobs have good wages and benefits and are projected to increase as the demand for green energy is on the rise.

Sustainable forestry practices would ensure the wood products for generations to come and create jobs in rural areas that have been hurt by outsourcing. Some paper mills are already using wood waste and turning it into energy to run the mill. With this new technology they could also produce ethanol.

Ethanol production won’t be outsourced, for it’s based upon Maine’s natural resource that doesn’t require fertilizer, irrigation, and is available year round. UM engineers and scientists will continue to refine the process and along the way will have opportunities to develop and discover other technologies related to this field, as they have done with hemicelulose.

Producers of corn ethanol are coming under criticism for taking away a food source that had been exported to Latin America.

Many countries that utilize the strengths in their natural resources are doing well economically. Iceland runs almost entirely on geothermal energy. The Pine Tree State could become the state that fuels and protects a nation by helping to end the nation’s dependency on oil-rich countries.

Energy independence and national security go hand in hand.

TIDES —

From Oregon to Maine, Europe to Australia, researchers are looking to the sea — currents, tides and waves — for its infinite energy. The Gulf Stream which stretches up to Maine has been targeted as a potential power source.

Currently a tidal energy project on the border with Canada has been testing a prototype that was partially funded by an MTI development award.

Underwater turbines pose little risk to passing ships because of standard navigation aids.

This powerful uninterrupted source of clean energy powered by the moon could add to the needed mix of environmental energy sources that will curb global warming, make America energy independent and fuel Maine’s economy.

The Baldacci administration is aggressive in the pursuit of renewable production, expanded wind generation, and further development of wood-to-energy initiatives, and tidal power.

“The objective here is to wean Maine off of oil dependency,” said Jack Cashman, senior advisor to the governor. “We are going to do it in a way that augments the existing infrastructure in the state, with the paper- and sawmills. So we help stabilize those businesses while we move in new directions. We will do it in a way that is sustainable and focuses on the strengths of Maine’s natural resources.”