Wind Power’s Gathering Storm

By Tux Turkel, Kennebec Journal

Portland Press Herald

An event in Augusta today that’s billed as Maine’s first statewide conference on wind energy is expected to draw the state’s first organized protest against industrial-scale wind power.

A recent state law sets a goal of generating 2,000 megawatts of electricity from wind by 2015, and 3,000 megawatts by 2020, nearly four times the capacity of the former Maine Yankee nuclear plant.

The administration of Gov. John Baldacci is promoting wind as a key ingredient for Maine’s energy future. Baldacci led a wind power trade mission to Europe last month, part of his plan to position Maine as a leader in renewable energy while creating thousands of jobs in manufacturing, installation and maintenance.

Achieving that vision will require turbine towers, roads and transmission corridors to be scattered around the landscape and, eventually, turbines to be installed off the coast. While some local opposition to almost any energy project is common in Maine, grass-roots, organized pushback may be forming to the state’s ambitions for wind.

State officials have been communicating and meeting with some of the more vocal opponents to discuss their concerns. But John Kerry, who heads the governor’s energy office and has participated in the discussions, said Maine must diversify its generating sources. Every option has some environmental and social costs, he noted.

“We’re going to need to balance the benefits and the burdens,” he said.

Today’s protest is planned by residents who oppose specific wind projects in the Lincoln and Rumford areas. Friends of Lincoln Lakes has been fighting a project on Rollins Mountain being developed by Massachusetts-based First Wind. The Rumford-area group opposes the recently approved Record Hill wind farm near Roxbury Pond, which is planned by Brunswick-based Independence Wind LLC.

It’s unclear how many opponents will show up at today’s Maine Wind Energy Conference. But organizers of the protest say they plan to stand in the Augusta Civic Center parking lot and try to engage conference participants on their way inside.

“There’s huge resistance to wind,” said Steve Thurston, a Vermont resident whose family has a camp on Roxbury Pond. “People are frantic about what’s coming.”

In Thurston’s opinion, state officials have formed a too-cozy relationship with wind power developers to help them locate projects that are subsidized with tax money. He thinks government funds would be better spent on conservation and efficiency efforts than on the number of large wind projects that will be needed to meet the state’s goal.

“You’re not going to be able to go anywhere in western Maine and see the silhouette of mountains against the sky,” he said. “There are going to be turbines everywhere.”

Thurston’s worries are echoed by Dr. Monique Aniel, a retired radiologist who lives in Mexico. She questions the process by which a task force and state lawmakers fashioned the wind generation goals. That process seems to have ignored medical and environmental concerns associated with grid-scale wind power, she said, and the well-being of residents near the mountains that are targeted for turbines.

“People have what I call turbine anticipation anxiety syndrome,” she said.

While the conference will focus on the benefits of wind power, Aniel said she wants participants to know there’s an opposing viewpoint.

“We want to show that we exist,” she said.

The wind conference is meant to bring together town and school officials, farmers and landowners with companies that do business — or want to do business — in the wind energy field. The aim is to jumpstart small-scale projects, said Sue Jones, a conference organizer who runs Community Energy Partners in Freeport, not to debate or promote grid-size wind development.

“I don’t think they’ll have a particularly receptive audience,” Jones said of the protesters. “I’m not sure this will be the right place for them.”

The emergence of organized opposition may reflect “growing pains” as Maine explores its potential to be a major player in wind power, said Dylan Voorhees, clean-energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. The group generally supports wind power, as a way to develop renewable energy and combat climate change.

“All of us are struggling to see the future of wind power in Maine,” said Voorhees, one of the presenters at today’s conference. “Can we do it in a way that doesn’t put a turbine on every ridge top?”

Maine already is New England’s top wind power producer, and it has the region’s greatest potential. To break the state’s dependence on oil and natural gas, Kerry said, wind has to be an important part of the answer, even if it’s controversial.

“It’s going to be a challenge, no question,” he said. “The issue of siting turbines and transmission corridors is very problematic.”

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