AUGUSTA – Critics of the wind energy industry urged lawmakers on Tuesday to gut the 2008 law that encouraged development of wind power projects, a move that opponents warned would cost jobs and undermine one of the bright spots in Maine’s economy.
The bill, L.D. 1329, would eliminate the “expedited permitting” that industry supporters say has been key to making Maine the top wind power state in New England. Critics contend, however, that the law has forced Maine taxpayers to subsidize a costly and unpredictable energy source that mars the landscape while offering few, if any, environmental benefits.
“If the government must choose winners and losers, it must also make adjustments when the projected winners turn out to be losers,” bill sponsor Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, told members of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.
But wind industry representatives and the workers who help build the massive projects accused bill supporters of distorting the facts and ignoring the recent advancements that have made wind power one of the least-expensive types of new energy development. They also warned that rewriting Maine’s law would discourage investment in an industry that has invested more than $1 billion in the state, much of that in rural areas.
“We need this work,” said David McDonough of Gardiner, who helps build wind power projects with Reed & Reed, the largest wind power construction contractor in the state. “You take this work away from us, you make it harder for people to invest the money and create these jobs and keep these jobs.”
While several co-sponsors of the bill – including O’Connor – serve on the committee, other lawmakers expressed concerns about trying to consider such dramatic changes less than a month and a half before the Legislature is slated to adjourn.
“This constitutes a significant restructuring of our energy infrastructure,” said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, the committee co-chair. “This is a great bill for the first day of the session so we have weeks to look at it. This is not so great a bill when we have days left until the closure of the work of our committee.”
Maine had roughly 230 commercial windmills with a maximum generation capacity of 440 megawatts operating in the state at the end of 2013. Yet the industry is growing in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, which had roughly 400 megawatts of installed capacity as of 2013.
The industry also an uneasy relationship with Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who has repeatedly questioned the cost-effectiveness of wind power. While a LePage administration official said Tuesday the governor supports some aspects of the bill, they opposed the measure overall because it could limit the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s ability to negotiate long-term electricity contracts.
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