Jobs, lower utility costs, and cleaner energy could be in the wind.
But so could tied-up tax dollars, botched opportunities and hits to quality of life.
Wind energy has whipped up a fierce debate in New Hampshire and Maine as plans for more turbines take off and both states float lucrative incentives for developers.
Supporters argue turbines can harness an endless, emissionless supply of wind energy atop mountainous regions in the north and offshore, while providing thousands of jobs and leading the way to a greener future.
Detractors argue the technology is unproven and say the money and manpower would be better spent on weatherizing homes and funding other forms of alternative energy such as tidal power.
Less than 2 percent of electricity in Maine and New Hampshire is currently derived from wind farms, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which set a goal of having wind energy generate 20 percent of electricity nationwide by 2030.
Locally, wind energy efforts have experienced fits and starts.
Goss Intenational, which operates manufacturing facilities in Dover and Durham, created a buzz earlier this year when it announced it was getting into the turbine business. The company agreed to a contract with Massachusetts-based Aeronautica to produce electromechanical nacelle components for midscale turbines in North America.
“We see it as a growth opportunity,” said Goss spokesman Greg Norris.
The state kicked in a $100,000 grant for the company to train 115 of its present workers.
Nacelles are about the size of a school bus and create electricity when blades on a wind turbine spin. Goss is expected to begin production later this year.
Norris said the work will be secondary to the company’s primary focus – making printing presses.
On the Seacoast, installing turbines themselves has been largely unsuccessful.
In late 2008, a nearly $200,000 turbine approved by Kittery, Maine, officials was installed to power the town’s waste facility. The state chipped in a $50,000 renewable energy grant.
The turbine was expected to save about $10,000 a year in energy costs, but was scrapped after less than a year due to underperformance.
The company that built the turbine, Canadian-based Entegrity Wind Systems, promised to pay Kittery back, but it has yet to do so after filing for bankruptcy.
Nearby in South Berwick, Maine, a plan to install a small commercial wind farm on a ridge near Route 236 was also scrapped. Cape Neddick-based Ra Power Solutions floated the idea but dropped it after testing determined wind in the area didn’t blow fast enough.
The Seacoast has poor winds compared to more blustery areas atop ridges in central and western parts of New Hampshire and northern parts of Maine. Offshore is also a prime location, but the technology for deepwater turbines is years off, experts say.
In 2008, the Granite State’s first wind farm came online in Lempster. It has 12 turbines capable of powering 10,000 homes a year. The project created 120 jobs, according to Iberdrola Renewables, the company that built it. Iberdrola is the world’s largest turbine maker and operates about 40 wind farms in the U.S.
The Lempster wind farm cost $48 million and was financed without taxpayer money.
Public Service of New Hampshire and the local service provider, New Hampshire Electric Cooperative, purchase electricity produced there. Iberdrola said the farm eliminates emissions equivalent to taking more than 5,000 cars off the road a year.
“It’s run reliably,” spokesman Paul Copleman said. “We’re happy with it.”
Iberdrola has eyed several more sites in New Hampshire and Maine for possible wind farms. One is on a ridgeline in Groton, N.H. That farm would be twice the size of Lempster.
The Groton project – like the Lempster one and many land-based wind farms – has been the target of criticism from residents concerned about noise and the aesthetic impact on ridgelines.
Steve Thurston, co-chairman of the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power, a Maine-based group that opposes land turbines, said he’s concerned ridgelines will become “pedestals for industrial machines.”
“The mountains of New England have long been worth protecting for their scenic value,” he said. “They are a tourism asset.”
He questioned the use of tax dollars to support wind farms that produce only a fraction of electricity used in the region, arguing the money could be better used to weatherize homes, conserve fuel, and pay for more “common-sense” technologies such as offshore wind farms and tidal power.
“We have our eye on the wrong target,” Thurston said.
In Maine – home to New England’s largest wind farm, a 38-turbine operation atop Stetson Mountain near Danforth – Gov. John Baldacci and the Legislature have set an ambitious goal to install 2,000 megawatts of wind capacity by 2015. There is currently almost 300 megawatts of capacity.
Paul LePage, the Republican gubernatorial candidate seeking to replace the term-limited Baldacci, has voiced opposition to that effort, saying wind energy isn’t effective yet.
“We should not be in the business of picking favorites when it comes to energy,” said LePage press secretary Dan Demeritt.
LePage supports evaluating all alternative energy technologies, including solar, tidal and cogeneration, the creation of both power and heat.
His position led the chairman of Iberdrola to say the state must be open to wind energy if the company is to invest there.
The chairman, Ignacio Galan, recently told the Portland Press Herald the company will be involved with the state “if the framework is there.”
Copleman, the Iberdrola spokesman, expanded on that comment.
“We’re in the business of making long-term investments… that means jobs and purchases of goods that are extensive,” he said. “We are looking for a certain amount of regulatory certainty that helps us plan.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding