During my years of environmental activism, I’ve always stood on the side of the people and the communities that were being impacted by the destructive and greed-driven policies of the polluters and other corporate entities. While I’ve litigated under the Endangered Species Act and other legislation designed to protect species, and understand the need to retain biodiversity, first and foremost for me has always been the impacts on people and, by extension, communities. I don’t portray “green” as an abstract, but rather a philosophy that is holistic, that takes into account direct measurable impacts on people, on human beings. A philosophy that believes that people are more important than profit.
And that is what grid scale wind in Maine is about – profit. Not elimination of coal-fired plants, since the intermittent nature of wind requires a constant backup source of power. Not reducing the cost of energy, since wind is the most expensive source of energy, as well as the most highly subsidized source. Not about producing a product that will make us independent of foreign energy sources, since the production level of wind turbines is marginal. Industrial wind farms are an attack on the rural communities of Maine. Yet, we seem willing to sacrifice people, homes, community cohesion, ridge lines and mountain tops on the altar of a technology that ensures nothing for the people of this state, but substantial profit for the profiteers of the industrial wind industry.
Those of us who oppose industrial wind in our state, however, are responding to a false dichotomy. The choice is not between industrial, grid scale wind and no wind. Rather, the choice is between centralized, industrial power, controlled privately, and local power, including power produced directly by homes and businesses for their own use. I know a number of families in Maine that produce all of their electricity through photovoltaics. I know others that produce a significant amount of their power through a 60 or 70 foot turbine, and the balance through photovoltaics. Some use wind and solar hot water heating, using the hot water not only for typical hot water uses, but also to warm the floors in the home. I know one gentleman who has his own little hydro operation going. Another friend uses geothermal for heating and cooling. My neighbor, Jackson Lab, is in the process of installing a pellet boiler that will supply a significant proportion of their energy needs.
My point here is that we need to move the discussion to a different level, one that asks the question of how we as Mainers can localize energy creation, rather than cede the power (no pun intended) for energy production to the corporations. They are in it to benefit themselves. It’s about time we came up with a plan to benefit us, the people of the state of Maine.
I suggest that withdrawing from the New England grid would be the first step towards bringing down energy costs in the state. Half of the cost of electricity bills in this state is for transmission – all CMP and Bangor Hydro actually do is transmit the energy that is purchased from energy producers. So we pay once for the energy and once for the transmission (thank you Angus King for de-regulation). If we were to leave the New England grid, and create regional, publicly-owned power authorities, with regional boards to determine the mix of energy sources, I predict we would go a long way towards energy affordability. Those who produce their own energy could link into the regional grid system, as they do now with CMP and Bangor Hydro, and sell their excess energy to the system, as well as drawing on the system when they require more energy than they produce. Or they could remain “off the grid.” Most importantly, secession from the New England grid would remove the main incentive for the development of industrial, grid-scale wind farms in Maine – sale of what little energy they produce to the other New England states.
The march towards central control of every aspect of our lives is vividly displayed in the industrial wind projects that are being imposed on unwilling communities. The “bigger is better” ethos has even taken hold here in this most independent of states. But it’s not too late to change that ethos to “small is beautiful.” We need only reach back into our collective memories and rediscover that splendid self-sufficiency that Mainers have always been known for.
–Lynne Williams is a Bar Harbor attorney and candidate for Senate District 28.
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