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Break like the wind  

I felt like a voyeur. There was Fred Hardy of New Sharon crawling into bed with – gawd, I can’t look! – Al Gore.

Fortunately, Hardy, a Republican and a Franklin County commissioner, was fully clothed. And Gore, the former Democratic presidential candidate and current climate-change shill, was present only in spirit. So my optic nerves didn’t get fried, and I wasn’t forced to type this week’s column in Braille.

The Hardy-Gore tryst took place August 2, during the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission’s public hearing in Carrabassett Valley on the proposal to build 30 wind turbines on Redington and Black Nubble mountains. Hardy, normally as predictably conservative as anybody this side of Newt Gingrich, had, for whatever reason (political expediency was the first thing that came to my mind), showed up to support Gore’s gaseous theory.

“Global warming is not something I have ever been warm and cozy to,” he testified, “but there’s something to it.”

What there is to it in this case is big bucks. Hardy was attempting to disguise himself as an environmentalist in order to present the most compelling argument to LURC (winner 10 years in a row: worst acronym in state government) for re-zoning pristine mountain tops so an outfit called Maine Mountain Power can make a lot of money. But he knew such a drastic move required more justification than mere profit. Hence, his newly discovered concern with saving the planet.

He wasn’t alone. Much of western Maine’s political infrastructure had suddenly transformed themselves into Gore-huggers.

“We would rather not have windmills, [but] we really accept windmills,” said Lloyd Cuttler, a Carrabassett Valley selectman, “because we know we need to do something [to stop global warming].”

Cuttler, who’s never met a development he didn’t like, supports the wind farm because he needs plenty of cheap electricity for his restaurant and housing project on Sugarloaf. But that might not have been such a compelling argument to make to the commissioners.

It wasn’t just the pro-business types who filled the hearing room with the distinct stench of hypocrisy. Liberal state Senator Ethan Strimling (D-Venezuela) drove all the way from his home in Portland (“in my hybrid”) to tell LURC why destroying the scenery with this big blow was no big deal. “The air we breathe is more important than the subjective aesthetic,” said the cultural commissar.

No doubt, Strimling will soon be announcing his support for nuclear power.

But enough about other people. Let’s talk about me. I live near Redington and Black Nubble. At night, the lights from the wind farm’s towers would shine in my front windows, and I suspect the hum of the turbines would be audible over the peepers in the spring and the crickets in the fall. When hiking, my family and friends would have to look at towers instead of trees. And then, there are all the feathered flyers who’d get ground into bird burgers.

I’d really hate that change in my subjective aesthetic. But I’d be against this project even if I still lived in Strimling’s Senate district. Because wind farms don’t make sense, either environmentally or economically.

Let’s start with the environment. Proponents of zephyr-powered electrical generation claim the clean energy from this project will eliminate 860,000 pounds of air pollution each day. Exactly how they came up with that figure isn’t too clear (other advocates have presented considerably smaller numbers), but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that statistic is accurate.

So where does the reduction come from? Supporters of the wind farm say that once the blades start rotating, power plants burning coal or gas could be shut down, thereby reducing emissions. But I don’t think that’s what fledgling enviros like Hardy and Cuttler have in mind. They expect wind farms to produce additional electricity for new development. Which is probably why you’ve never seen a list of power plants scheduled to be phased out once Redington-Black Nubble comes on line.

As for economics, wind farms are sweet deals. For people who own them. They get a federal tax credit of 1.9 cents for every kilowatt-hour they produce.

You pay for that. Then, you pay for the electricity you helped pay to generate.

There’s more. Wind farms are eligible for tax breaks that allow the owners to depreciate as much as 50 percent of the cost in the first year and 100 percent within five years.

You pay for that, too.

The wind farm being built in Mars Hill has already qualified for a property tax rebate of $250,000 a year.

You won’t have to pay for that. Unless you live in Mars Hill.

One study estimated that two-thirds of the economic benefit owners derive from windmills comes not from selling power, but from tax breaks.

Something stinks. If it’s isn’t air pollution, it may have something to do with the word “wind” being a synonym not only for babble and balderdash, but also for flatulence.

By Al Diamon

The Portland Phoenix

17 August 2006

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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