Sunday, October 10, 2010
A Week in the World of Wind
There’s been a lot happening in the world of ‘wind’ here in the state of Maine. I wish I had more time to write it down and post it to GAG, but the fact that I haven’t been able to is a symptom of the viral spread of industrial wind.
I am more convinced than ever that we, the PEOPLE, have to stop this at the state level, and then--at the national one. There are a dozen small citizens’ groups across Maine battling their own individual projects, and we are each standing up to--and facing down--very rich and powerful (and sometimes multi-national) entities. These industrial developers have the backing of our current administration, too, so the battle is far more difficult than if we had a level playing field.
This week alone, the Friends of the Highland Mountains were involved in opposing three different industrial wind companies here in the western mountains. We voiced our opposition to a request regarding a development on the other side of the famed Kennebec River, proposed by First Wind, who has asked for a TIF (tax incremental financing) from our county government. Among the many other wind developments they have in the works, First Wind is proposing to line the mountains of Bingham and Mayfield with 400 foot tall turbines. That they should request a TIF is brassy, to say the least. TIFs were designed as a way for municipalities to entice businesses to their locale, in the hopes that those businesses would bring enough jobs and economic development to offset the tax revenue lost by a TIF. However, wind developers are BEGGING for permission to despoil Maine’s mountains—and if they are successful in obtaining their permits, approximately 60% of the cost of their projects is ALREADY paid for by American tax payers. TIFs should not be granted to these companies when they are asking US for permission to come here, and when they bring few full time jobs. In addition, a good percentage of the part time jobs don’t originate in the towns where the projects are proposed, but are given to companies from elsewhere which are already contracting to the wind developers and which have the expertise to build these mountaintop developments.
We also had an opportunity on Wednesday to make clear before Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission our future opposition to Iberdrola’s plans to place grid-scale wind turbines on the ridges of Lexington and Concord Township. I had the opportunity to speak to four representatives of Iberdrola in the lobby outside the LURC commissioners’ meeting room after our appearance and I did my best to politely but unambiguously make plain to the developer that they are not and will not be welcome here. This particular battle is going to be monumental, unless the people of Maine stand together and let this conglomerate know that we are hostile to their plans—that we are not willing to be their next conquest. Iberdrola, partnered with Abu Dhabi National Energy Company, a government controlled entity of the United Arab Emirates, is the world’s leader in wind power. After exhausting the subsidy resources and imperiling the job market in their home country of Spain, Iberdrola set its sights on other European countries, as well as North Africa and North America. The U.S. government has made it clear that American taxpayers will foot the bill for any ‘renewable energy’ company which wants to develop our wind resources, and Iberdrola heard the clarion call and rushed to our shores. Shame on us. The government and the wind industry use the lure of ‘getting America off foreign oil’ as one of the scare tactics to entice citizens to comply with their plans to industrialize our mountains. Once Iberdrola gets a toe hold here, we will be beholden to the Middle East for our very own wind.
As an aside, less than 2% of Maine’s electricity is generated by oil-fired plants--and then, only on those few days of peak demand which we might have during a heat wave. Our dependence on ‘foreign oil’, which we obtain from Canada, is due to our need to heat our homes and power our automobiles—neither of which are done by electricity.
In addition to dealing with First Wind and Iberdrola, we also had a ‘wind event’ closer to home. On Saturday, Highland Wind LLC held an open house at the Highland Plantation fire house. Angus King and Rob Gardiner came with a host of ‘experts’ to try to convince Highlanders that supporting their project was a good thing for the wallets of those living in the Plantation, as well as being beneficial to our environment. These developers have gone to extraordinary lengths to sweet-talk the locals. Considering the fact that they do not need the approval of the Plantation, since it is our LURC commissioners who will decide whether or not to approve their application, their actions speak volumes.
We Mainers who are exercising our rights and ‘having a say’ are making these developers very nervous.
Most of us chose not to attend the open house, even though there was a ‘curiosity factor’ involved. But we didn’t want to ignore the affair, either, as we thought perhaps that would be seen as indifference. And so… we did something guaranteed us by the Constitution. We staged a peaceful demonstration.
Ever mindful of our community, which is trying very hard to stay ‘together’, we decided to wait until after the start of the open house to assemble. And we limited our demonstration to one hour, as well. There are still a few who support the project due to Mr. King’s and Mr. Gardiner’s promises of economic gain, and it is important to us that we find a way to disagree with our neighbors without being disagreeable. And while our opposition to the project is an adamant one, we wanted to be mindful of those who decided to avail themselves of another opportunity to hear those promises made by the developers. We know those ‘promises’ to be a sales pitch, and a flimsy one, at that. But just as we have the right to lawful assembly, so, too, do others have the right to attend a program which was open to the public.
As always, I was extremely proud of the people who gave up their Saturday morning to stand out in the cold and stand up for what they believe in.
Before I close, I’d like to add something in response to a question my aunt asked me yesterday. My aunt doesn’t support mountaintop industrial wind. But the same question gets posed to her as gets asked of other Mainers who are opposing this misguided plan, and she wondered what my answer was.
“If not ‘wind’, then what? What is the alternative, if we want ‘green’ energy?”
I’ve written several times in the past about wind power’s very questionable ‘green-ness’. About the fact that, due to its intermittent and undependable nature, back-up generators must always be kept online for those times when the wind doesn’t blow. And in their ramped-back state, those generators burn less efficiently and pollute more. One needs only to look at countries in Europe which have relied heavily on wind energy for the last decade or two to see the evidence… these same countries have some of the highest emissions ratings on the continent. Included in the ‘green’ factor are many other parts to the equation, including one of the most important, as pertains to industrial wind in forested, mountainous regions like Maine. The amount of deforestation which happens as a result of building the roads and clearing the turbine sites removes precious vegetation which is vital to capturing carbon and cooling this state. Those same slope-side roads fragment wildlife habitat. Those spinning turbines kill migratory birds, and the changes in pressure created by those massive blades cutting through different atmospheres creates barotrauma in bats flying in the vicinity, causing their lungs to explode. Runoff from erosion affects water quality, as does the herbicides sprayed to keep the transmission corridors and roadsides from re-vegetating—and that doesn’t even take into account what those herbicides do to our animals which hunt and forage in those areas. This list of environmental impacts goes on and on.
Taken individually, those environmental effects are bad enough. But add them together and the cumulative impacts are enormous. I’d like to paste in a quick synopsis written by a friend which explains better than I can the quality of this wind power which the developers are trying so hard to sell us on-- this ‘renewable’ and ‘clean’ energy which is so wonderful that we must sacrifice a great deal, including our unique quality of place and quality of life. I hope this helps my aunt to better understand why her niece is committed to stopping mountaintop industrial wind in Maine. This wind power scheme asks too much, and delivers far, far too little.
“Wind never replaces any generation. It can never be counted on, so as the demand forecasts are looked at for the following day--with great accuracy--when (grid operators) need to buy additional power in the day-ahead electricity market, wind cannot be considered. Even with a forecast of 100% wind, it cannot be counted on. So when (operators) have to beef up (supply) in advance of anticipated heightened demand, they must buy something else like natural gas in the day-ahead market so that an adequate reserve is in place. When wind electricity simply 'happens' the following day, it always is an unnecessary add-on, a veritable poster child for 'too little, too late'. But it is an expensive one, because the ratepayer is nevertheless required to fund it, although it was not needed. The wind industry's implementation plans rely upon citizen ignorance…”
“Citizen ignorance”…my friend does not mean that Mainers are stupid. Certainly not. But most of us have no idea how our energy supply is anticipated or how our demand is met. We leave that to those whose job it is to know such things. However, that paragraph is an important one. Wind is being sold to the citizens of this state by those who stand to profit from it, but we are only hearing one biased side of the story. Wind is always an ‘extra’. It cannot and will not ever be a primary, dependable source of power unless the day comes when scientists figure out how to store it. But because citizens’ support is needed, it is better for those with a stake in the game to keep those facts about this energy source to themselves.
It’s time we learned the truth. As I read and listen and learn, I am more convinced than ever that we are being taken for the biggest ‘ride’ of our lives. And the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. I didn’t go looking for this fight… it came to me. It’s coming to all of us. As I look at a map of Maine, dotted with pins to show each met tower, each wind development already built or in the stages of being built, and all those developments which are currently proposed, my heart flip-flops. None of us are immune to the viral spread of wind. Very few of our peaks and ridges are safe. Unless we start paying attention, unless we become informed individuals, and until we stand together and demand that our leaders learn the facts and act on them according to the rules of ethics, we are going to see this state fall. Very soon, our mountains will be littered with massive machines which produce a power which is not ‘green’, is not needed, and cannot easily be integrated into our grid. And for what? The high costs come in the form of our hard-earned money, environmental degradation, and Maine’s unique quality of place.
I’ve never been a fan of ‘hype’. I have always considered myself to be a voice of reason and of reasonableness. I certainly never, ever imagined I would hold a sign and stand with others at an organized protest. It’s one of those many things which are outside my comfort zone--acts which, until recently, were beyond the scope of what I could imagine myself doing. But dammit, this is wrong! I truly believe that. And I also believe that we Americans and Mainers have been too content inside our comfort zones… so content that we’ve ignored what’s been going on all around us. We are being exploited, as are the natural resources of which we are all stewards.
I’m forty-seven years old and I never thought I’d march in a picket line. But then, I never thought I’d need to.
I guess a woman does what a woman’s got to do. As long as industrial wind is knocking on Maine’s door and trying to push its way inside, any ‘comfort zone’ I might have stayed inside is a thing of the past.