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Wind power proponents hold summit in Maine

With much of the state being buffeted by high winds today, it is perhaps fitting that one of the region’s largest wind power conferences was held in Maine, attracting hundreds of stakeholders. About 150 businesses from Maine and beyond were attracted to the two-day event, which was held at a South Portland hotel. Tom Porter was there.

“For the second time in three years the American Wind Energy Association Northeast Regional Summit has come back to Maine because Maine is a real clean energy hub for the Northeast, and New England in particular,” says Jeremy Payne (right), the executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. “Maine has high quality wind, a skilled workforce, reasonable and predictable regulatory policies, and I think that’s one of the things that’s helped attract these companies to Maine.”

Payne says some 750 businesses in Maine currently benefit from the state’s wind power industry, which produces almost 500 megawatts of energy – theoretically enough to power about 250,000 homes.

Not present at the regional summit was anyone from the Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s administration, which is no fan of the industry. Earlier this month, for example, the governor introduced a measure which would abandon the wind power development goal set by his predecessor.

“I don’t think there’s been any mystery of where the administration’s been on this industry for the last three-and-a-half years,” Payne says. “So I don’t think there was any expectation that the governor would be delivering opening remarks. Certainly we continue to hope that his administration will come around and understand the value of this industry to the economy and the environment.”

Payne also refers to opinion polls suggesting that an overwhelming majority of Americans support the development of wind farms. Chris O’Neil is not one of them.

“They’re costing us money and air pollution,” says O’Neil, a spokesman for Friends of Maine’s Mountains. The group opposes the development of wind power, which O’Neil says on a typical day provides only about 1 percent of the region’s energy needs.

O’Neil says increased investment in wind energy over the last couple of years has come at the expense of other relatively clean power sources, notably natural gas. And since wind power is too intermittent to be able to meet peak demand, ONeil says the result is more reliance on coal and oil, and more pollution to boot.

“So windpower invades Maine, forces us to buy a billion dollars worth of something that we don’t need,” he says, “and that does us no good, ruining hundreds of square miles of classic Maine mountains, and ruining our economy, and this is something to celebrate?” Critics like O’Neil also accuse the wind industry of relying too much on federal subsidies.

The industry’s proponents, meanwhile, point out that all energy sources receive some support from the federal government. They also argue that wind power plays an important role in diversifying the region’s energy mix, ensuring it doesn’t get too reliant on any one energy source.