Monday, July 31, 2006

Blaine House hopefuls back alternative energy

By GLENN ADAMS, Associated Press

©Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

AUGUSTA — Most candidates for governor are open to having a liquefied natural gas facility Down East if it clears regulatory hurdles. They also see development of wind power as a big plus in Maine's energy mix. But most also express deep reservations about offshore drilling for oil and gas, which will be allowed if Congress lifts a moratorium on the practice.

In a survey of the candidates by The Associated Press, the candidates also voiced support for a range of alternative forms of energy.

"To promote renewable power generation, Maine should focus on small-scale projects located at or near the user," independent Barbara Merrill said. "That will cut down on our paying unfair New England transmission charges and reduce environmental impact."

Candidates were asked whether they favor having an LNG plant in eastern Maine, and whether they favor any of three active plans in particular.

Republican nominee Chandler Woodcock said he favors the idea of having an LNG project, provided it's locally approved, but doesn't favor one project over another.

Without taking a position, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci said he has formed a working group to review all LNG permit applications, but noted that developers in other states have maintained that federal energy regulators have authority over LNG siting.

Merrill said affected towns should have a say in where a plant is located.

"Ideally, people there will find a way to permit an LNG plant while doing nothing to undermine" the region's scenic coastline, she said.

Fellow independent John Michael, who sees liquefied natural gas as a viable alternative to other fossil fuels, said an LNG facility "could make sense for ratepayers, and would obviously stimulate the local economy wherever it is located." He also agreed with Woodcock and Merrill in saying any project should have to get local approval in order to go forward.

Green Independent candidate Pat LaMarche dismissed liquefied natural gas as "not a long-term solution" and said a terminal in Maine has more to do with supplying other states than keeping Maine homes warm and lighted.

"A finite fuel source, with long- and short-range negative environmental impact, foisted on our state's poorest communities and headed to consumers outside Maine - that will likely turn into a legal quagmire - doesn't make very much sense for the people of Maine," LaMarche said.

On wind-power proposals, Baldacci sidestepped taking a position on any particular project, saying only that he has proposed increasing the renewable energy supply 10 percent by 2017 and "development of wind energy facilities in Maine holds much promise."

One wind project, in Mars Hill, is already under construction. State regulators are considering plans for another, the 90-megawatt Redington Wind Farm near Sugarloaf Mountain, a project critics see as a blight on western Maine's mountain vistas. Others are being proposed.

Woodcock, who is from Farmington, rejects the Redington plan because of its location, but said he is open to wind power in general if government subsidies provided in the form of tax credits can be reduced.

Michael questioned whether the Redington project's visibility from the Appalachian Trail and Sugarloaf Mountain could affect the local tourism economy. Local municipalities, he said, should have the final say.

Merrill said the Redington project should go forward if it meets requirements of Maine law.

"We no longer have the luxury of vetoing every project even if it is in a pristine location, if we are serious about dealing with global warming, air quality and reducing our reliance on foreign oil," Merrill said.

LaMarche, while acknowledging critics' concerns about the Redington project, views the windmills from a different perspective. Recalling seeing them while living in Holland, LaMarche said she has "an affection for the aesthetics and efficiency of windmills."

A proposal in Congress to lift a moratorium on drilling for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast drew sharply critical responses from nearly all of the candidates.

Baldacci said approval would roll back nearly a quarter-century of bipartisan protection for the coastal environment.

"Drilling in our ocean waters should be a last resort, not a first choice toward achieving energy independence," he said.

LaMarche said, "Further jeopardizing our environment for a vanishing resource solves nothing. We need solutions. Wind, hydro, solar, organic fuels and conservation are solutions."

Merrill is also against offshore drilling, as is Michael, who believes that it adds to the nation's dependence on fossil fuels and frustrates efforts to develop alternative energy sources.

Woodcock took no position on offshore drilling, saying it is a federal issue. He agreed there needs to be a commitment to "viable" energy alternatives - those that have a reasonable cost and are locally approved.

Phillip Morris NaPier, an independent whose name will appear on the ballot, favors the Redington windmills but not offshore drilling. While he sees an economic plus from the LNG project, he also sees a potential for danger if the plant is targeted by terrorists.

David John Jones, also an independent, did not respond to the survey.

No comments: