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Supporters tout benefits of wind power in Maine

A new report, released by Environment Maine, highlights the environmental and economic benefits of wind power across the state. The group’s executive director, Emily Figdor, says Maine is the largest producer of wind energy in New England, with 21 projects currently operating or in development. At a Portland news conference today, she said the investment is paying off. Tom Porter has more.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday morning on the steps of Portland City Hall, Figdor says Maine’s commitment to wind energy prevented more than 534,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere last year.

“Maine’s wind energy avoided climate-altering carbon pollution equivalent to eliminating the pollution from more than 100 thousand cars,” Figdor said.

Paul Williamson of the Maine Wind Industry Initiative says the economic benefits of windpower are also adding up. “Maine has received over a billion dollars worth of investment in wind power projects within the last six years,” Williamson said.

And that investment has created a cluster of companies that supply the wind power industry, and provide jobs for more than 1,000 Mainers.

Key to the development of this industry have been two federal tax incentives: the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, which are due to expire at the end of the month. At Wednesday’s news conference, speakers urged Maine’s congressional delegation to keep them in place.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is less keen on wind power. He’s described it as too costly and overly-reliant on subsidies.

“It’s been frustrating to see that Gov. LePage has been consistently opposed to wind power – pretty much of any kind,” said Democrat Diane Russell, who represents House District 120 in Portland.

Russell criticized the LePage administration for its decision to re-open a competitive bidding process for an offshore wind power project off the Maine coast. It was a decision which prompted Norwegian energy giant Statoil last month to withdraw its $120 million proposal.

Patrick Woodcock is director of the Governor’s Energy Office. Woodcock denies that the administration is opposed to wind power per se. “The governor is looking to maximize benefits to the state of Maine.”

Patrick Woodcock says that while the administration appreciates the benefits of wind power, the bottom line is that it must be cost-effective.

“We should use this resource so average Mainers benefit,” Woodcock says. “How can we ensure that more Mainers are employed by the industry, how can we ensure that Maine electricity prices are reduced.”

“Grid-scale wind power is irresponsible, unncessary and unaffordable,” says Chris O’Neil, spokesman for Friends of Maine Mountains – a group that strongly opposes the development of wind energy in the state.

More wind turbines, he says, does not automatically mean less coal and oil-fired power stations, because wind power is too intermittent to meet the load-balancing demands of the power grid. “There is zero evidence that wind power’s reckless buildup in Maine has reduced emissions at all.”

O’Neil says if Maine had a thousand wind turbines, carbon emissions across New England would only be reduced by 1.5 percent.

Environment Maine, meanwhile, insists the industry is on the right track. If the recent pace of wind development continues, it says in its report, in five years time new wind generation in Maine would mean a further 365,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide not going into the atmosphere – that’s the equivalent of the pollution from 76,000 cars.