Newly rechristened Governor Paul LePage has included on his new-term to-do list lowering energy costs in Maine.
Good luck with that one.
The cost of electricity in Maine – residential, commercial and industrial – is among the highest in the lower 48 United States. It’s a long-standing economic reality that undermines LePage’s tepid “Open for Business” efforts to create new jobs in Maine and to retain the few jobs that are already here. Any entrepreneur with at least a room-temperature IQ would quickly cross Maine off the list of potential locations for a new business, unless of course the products or services involved could be developed and sold in the dark. The notion of confronting that reality is magical thinking. Not going to happen. Not anytime soon.
You can’t drive very far in rural Maine without at some point encountering a mountain ridge dotted with massive wind turbines, which was Angus King’s vision, both as governor and, post-governor, as a major investor in wind turbine construction. Back in the good old days, Maine was decreed the “Saudi Arabia of Wind,” but so was the stretch of terrain between northern Texas and North Dakota. Problem is that’s not where affordable electricity is needed. How do you get kilowatts from Fargo to Frisco?
While massive wind turbines are emerging throughout the state, including Hancock County, they don’t contribute to lowering energy costs for Maine consumers and businesses – costs that increase by double-digit percentages nearly every year. What they do, unfortunately, is allow out-of-state, coal-burning generating plants to purchase renewable energy credits that allow business-as-usual operations that, day in and out, make the greenhouse gas emission situation worse, not better. These “wind farms” are heavily subsidized through the largesse of the Maine Public Utility Commission and its handmaidens in the state legislature. The owners – First Wind comes to mind – can command high rates, while placating locals who dare to object to the noise and visual pollution of these towers with significant “contributions” to worthy causes, all paid for by their coal-burning customers, the same folks who contend loudly that there is such a thing as “clean coal.” Right. Think “dry water.” More magical thinking.
So, what’s a governor like Paul LePage to do? Well, Maine has plenty of rivers, so there’s always hydro-power, right? No. As governor, Angus King oversaw the dismantling of Maine’s once viable hydro-electric generating system by signing into law “deregulation,” which was a Reagan-era voodoo economic theory that required electrical utility companies to divest themselves of their generating assets, including hydro-electric power plants. And, for the record, Maine’s only nuclear power plant. No nukes for Maine, although Mainers seem more than content to buy and consume nuclear power generated in New Brunswick and New Hampshire. But that’s another column.
Ellsworth area residents don’t have to walk more than a few blocks from the downtown public library to see a once fully functioning hydro-electric plant. It’s 100 years old and 100 feet tall and, more often than not, dormant. Its turbines remain functional, but are seldom used, except in the heat of summer when demand for air-conditioning in the Boston-New York metroplex is enormous. That’s when the dam’s out-of-state owners throw the switch, dumping onto the wholesale market what kilowatts they can. The facility has virtually no impact on power supply, or costs, in Maine. And did I mention that the dam kills fish and eels? But that’s another column.
While lowering energy costs in Maine may be on LePage’s new term resolutions list, that list might as well also include world peace and ending hunger and homelessness. All worthy causes, for sure, but well beyond the scope of Blaine House.
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