September 14, 2006

Candidates square off on energy, environmental issues

PORTLAND – Maine’s major gubernatorial candidates agreed Thursday that global warming is a problem and that the state needs more diverse energy sources in the future.

But in a departure from his rivals, Republican Chandler Woodcock said he isn’t supportive of wind energy projects in Maine because he thinks they generate minimal energy and are expensive to develop. Woodcock said he also thinks nuclear power could play a role in the state’s future energy needs.

Woodcock’s comments came during a 90-minute forum with Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, Green Party candidate Pat LaMarche and independent Barbara Merrill that focused on environmental and energy issues.

Woodcock said he thinks nuclear power is a clean, low-cost energy option, but he doesn’t see it happening in Maine in the next decade because of regulatory hurdles. The other candidates said nuclear power has no place in Maine.

As for wind, Woodcock said his opposition doesn’t have anything to do with the aesthetics of wind turbines. A proposal for a major wind farm in western Maine is meeting opposition from some who object because it would mar scenic mountain views.

“It’s the costs I object to,” Woodcock said.

The forum, held at the University of Southern Maine, was sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine. The association of companies, government agencies, educational institutions and nonprofits seeks to advance the environmental and energy technology sectors in Maine.

Before the forum began, Phillip Morris NaPier, an independent candidate for governor who was not invited to participate, appeared inside the auditorium demanding a place at the table. He carried a bullhorn, but did not use it.

NaPier, a convicted felon who started the organization Felons United, was escorted out by a university police officer. “Wake up! Rise up! Vote NaPier! The people’s hero!” he shouted as he was escorted away.

After the forum got under way, the candidates gave their perspectives on energy and environmental issues and took questions from a moderator.

Energy is a timely issue with high gasoline and heating oil prices and divided public opinion over wind farm and liquefied natural gas projects that have been proposed in western and eastern Maine.

Baldacci said energy and environmental projects can help grow the Maine economy. With the first commercial wind farm being erected in Mars Hill, he said the state can seek out companies to manufacture wind turbines in Maine.

“There are huge opportunities in this field,” he said.

On the Redington wind farm project, which is being proposed near the Sugarloaf ski resort, Woodcock said he opposes it. Baldacci supports wind power development in general, but has not taken a stance on the project. LaMarche and Merrill said they support it.

Woodcock reiterated his stance that the private sector should take the lead in researching and developing energy solutions. He called for more cooperation to ease what he called the “adversarial relationship” between the environmental and business communities.

Merrill attacked Baldacci for not taking a stance on the Redington project. She said the state needs strong leadership at the top and a strong middle ground devoid of partisan politics to address energy and environmental issues.

LaMarche advocated for “community-based energy,” where solar or wind power projects, for instance, would benefit the people in the communities where they are located. With windmills, LaMarche said she sees energy, peace and “no more body bags from the Middle East.”

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