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Ill wind: politics and other mistakes  

Most of Maine is too butt-ugly to preserve.

That’s not my opinion. That’s the official position of the Governor’s Task Force on Tourists Who Accidentally Wander Into Downtown Skowhegan. You can understand how such a high-level assemblage might have arrived at that conclusion. The kind of people who get appointed to a gubernatorial task force tend not to be the sort of folks who are overly inclined to locate a town’s best honky-tonks. Once they discover there’s no opera house or abstract-expressionist artist support group, they don’t engage in much further exploration of a municipality’s cultural attractions.

As a result, it would be easy to dismiss these findings as the work of a bunch of Portland-centric snobs whose only exposure to “The Other Maine” has been a ski weekend in Bethel and a report on the potato harvest they heard on Maine Public Radio. Oh, and a summer trip that took them through Calais.

The one in France.

But before we commit the end product of all blue-ribbon commissions to the environmentally restoring effects of the septic system, we should at least consider the conclusions of the latest such panel: The Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development, which produced a report called “Finding Common Ground For a Common Purpose.”

Based on a quick reading of this document, I assume that’s “Common” in the sense of “run-of-the-mill, plebian, provincial, low-bred, and insignificant.”

The report concluded – and here I’m paraphrasing just a little – that most of Maine is too butt-ugly to preserve. Now, where have I heard that before?

Since that’s the case, the document designated much of the state as “Expedited Review Areas,” which means “areas within the state that appear to be most appropriate for wind power development.” These areas include “all organized towns and a portion of the Land Use Regulation Commission’s (LURC) jurisdiction.” That’s a majority of the state, excepting only a few state parks, the views from the verandas of task-force members’ vacation homes, and two honky-tonks in Skowhegan. These places were exempted because, “There may be a limit to how much wind power development the people of Maine will accept.”

Particularly those people of Maine who, like me, may be forced to accept huge turbines in their backyards.

Still, that’s a pretty generous concession, considering the report’s central claim: “Wind power is broadly recognized to be the most significant, economically viable, utility-scale, renewable source of electricity currently available.”

It would be difficult to argue with that statement – if that statement meant a damned thing. Let’s examine each aspect of it a little more closely.

Lots of swell ideas have, at one time or another, been “broadly recognized.” The Earth being flat. Lead paint on kids’ toys. Chuck Norris’s political endorsements. ’Nuff said.

“Most significant”? More significant than cold fusion, I suppose, but nowhere near as significant as a decent air-tight wood stove.

As for “economically viable,” wind power is the poster child for government handouts. Without massive federal tax breaks and energy subsidies, nobody would ever consider building these things. And the task force report notes that Maine ought to further underwrite the construction and operation of such facilities with tax-increment financing (the developers don’t have to pay all their property taxes) and Pine Tree Zones (the developers don’t have to pay all their other taxes). Keep in mind that when some special interest isn’t paying all the taxes it would normally owe, everybody else is paying more

Let’s move on to “utility-scale.” That’s task force jargon for “big.” Before it was dismantled, the Maine Yankee Nuclear Plant used to be “utility-scale.” For some reason, nobody in the anti-nuke crowd ever cited that as a positive.

Finally, there’s “renewable.” The wind is the only energy source, except methane from cows, that produces power when it feels like it. When it doesn’t, crank up the not-so-renewable coal- and oil-fired power plants we have to maintain in operational condition as backup. Or, if you want to be truly green, you could opt to sit out the lull, huddled in the dark, wishing and hoping for the gusts to return before the pipes freeze.

Now, let’s get back to butt-ugly. To be fair, the report never uses that specific term. But even without such blunt language, the authors do manage to dismiss the argument of those who make their livings from outdoor recreation and tourism that erecting giant blots all over the landscape might reduce Maine’s scenic value, thereby irreparably harming our largest industry. We just can’t afford to consider visual blight, the task force concluded, when all that cheap energy is waiting to be harnessed.

I’ve heard that argument somewhere before. I think it was, as Bob Dylan so aptly put it, breaking in the wind.

Blowing, I meant blowing.

By Al Diamon

The Phoenix

27 February 2008

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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