Having spent all of my adult life wandering around the hills in Highland and the surrounding towns I am not an objective voice in this Industrial Wind debate. It is difficult to separate my personal feelings from the facts but here is how I see it so far.
Governor Baldacci and the developers have sold industrial wind development to us as a climate change issue with great urgency. They have said many times in speeches that shaving a mountain top in Maine will save a whole mountain from destruction in coal country. In the same speeches they talk about reducing oil consumption in Maine and reducing electric rates.
If I believed that, I would have to agree that we should go ahead with as many wind turbines as we can and no place should be sacred since we are talking about saving the planet.
In our meetings in Highland we asked the developers for specifics on how these coal and oil reductions would occur. The developers said that no coal or oil fired generating would be displaced by their project. Their description was that electricity from a spinning turbine in Highland would go onto ISO which is the New England grid and somewhere in Massachusetts a gas-fired generator would slow down. Since electricity buyers are required by law to buy this electricity above all other sources when it is produced and since the sellers are allowed to charge the highest rate for it, I don’t see much chance that there will be a drop in the price we pay.
The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal for a large amount of renewable energy, mostly from wind. We are disproportionately subsidizing the wind part because without it no one would be interested in investing. These programs are being sold to us as a way to save the planet. A couple of months ago I read an article in the Morning Sentinel that said the USDOE was in the process of issuing permits for more than one hundred new coal fired generating facilities in the next 2 years. That would be about the same rate that China is building them. If we are continuing to increase the burning of coal, there will be a corresponding increase in CO2 emissions. No amount of wind energy is going to change that equation.
I have no idea what is going on here but I do know it doesn’t have much to do with reducing “greenhouse gas” emissions.
The mountains of Maine are a unique resource that no one else has. I believe that the economic future of our area depends on preserving the wild character of these mountains. Small businesses like Maine Huts and Trails could spread all over the northern part of the state providing a permanent economic base without consuming a resource. I don’t think I want to trade these mountains for something that doesn’t do any of things that have been promised. In fact the only significant benefit that I see coming from this is the jobs during construction.
I don’t believe there was anyone from our area involved in the process that decided this future for us. There were no hearings held outside Augusta that would have allowed us to participate in the process. There were no public hearings held to debate the merits of the expedited wind law when it was passed. The changes in LURC zoning rules that make it very difficult to deny a permit were requested by a wind developer writing to a member of the Governor’s Wind Task Force. When we had the great clear-cut debates a few years back there were public hearings held all over the state just to make some changes in forest practices. After the hearings were concluded, forest industry representatives wrote letters to their friends on the LURC board to try to influence the vote. There was enough public outrage at this that the process had to be done over. I guess the special interests have found an easy route around that process this time.
No matter where you stand on this issue, the process that brought us to this point has been hopelessly flawed and we all should be outraged about that.
Gregory Drummond is a resident of Highland Plantation.
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