Monday, August 28, 2006

Redington wind project right for Maine

Blethen Papers
Maine Voices
Steve Hinchman

At recent hearings on the proposed Redington Wind Farm, many said, ''Yes to wind, but not here.''

Others warned that if the state allowed construction of this 90 megawatt, 30-turbine electric power plant in Maine's western mountains, it would open Maine's doors for other energy projects of similar scale.

But such a transformation of Maine's electrical system - from fossil-fueled power sources to low- or zero-emission sources such as wind - is exactly what Maine must begin to do, and soon.

Indeed, to contribute meaningfully to the battle against global warming, we in Maine must, in the next decade, significantly invest in wind energy along with other renewable energy sources, such as tidal power and biomass.

We must also dramatically step-up investments in conservation, energy efficiency, cleaner cars and public transportation.

This new reality, that unless checked global warming will completely destabilize our climate and worldwide ecosystem, is why the Conservation Law Foundation intervened in the Redington hearings. It is also why we believe the Land Use Regulation Commission can find a path that will lead to permitting this wind farm.

Critics of Redington are correct in one respect: A project of this scale can not be built without impact to the environment.

Roads, power lines and wind turbines will change the view, disrupt wetlands and habitat, and harm some bird and bat populations. These legitimate issues must be fully considered, avoided where possible, and minimized where unavoidable.

CLF, while respecting these concerns, has asked a different question: What will happen to the environment of the western mountains and Maine if global production of greenhouse gases continues unabated? The answer is alarming.

Increased levels of carbon dioxide, the key greenhouse gas, have caused average global temperatures to rise by about 1 degree F. over the last century. Solid science tells us we are locked in to at least another degree of warming.

Just as when you have a fever, even this small increase in temperature is cause for serious concern and has already unleashed a host of calamities, including rapid melting of ice sheets at the poles; increased frequency and severity of hurricanes and typhoons; and more intense droughts and heat waves, to name just a few.

The real problem is what's next. At current trends, CO2 levels will double pre-industrial levels by 2050 and triple by 2100.

This is predicted to increase temperatures by 5 to 10 degrees F. How bad might it be? The difference between the last ice age and today is just 5 degrees F. Then, the Grand Banks were thickly forested islands and peninsulas jutting into the Atlantic. Today, they are under 40 to 60 feet of water.

Impacts from the next wave of climate change will likely happen abruptly, and may be quite unpredictable. But they will be severe. For instance, experts from all sides at LURC's Redington hearings agreed that with predicted global warming, the unique sub-alpine habitat and rare northern bog lemming at the top of the Redington Pond Range will disappear completely.

The hiking experience on the Appalachin Trail will be one of traveling through miles of dying forests subject to fire, disease and drought.

Some change is irreversible. But many experts think the worst impacts can still be avoided - if we dramatically cut back our CO2 emissions.

As part of this transformation, wind energy can and should provide several thousand megawatts of power to New England by the end of this decade. Projects like the Redington Wind Farm are really just the beginning.

Moreover, privately owned mountains like Redington and Black Nubble, which also have high winds, nearby transmission lines and significant existing development (ski areas, access roads, logging and a biomass plant) are rare. If we can't find a way to permit a viable project here, then what hope do we have of doing it elsewhere?

While very real, the site-specific harms at Redington pale in comparison to the local and global environmental consequences of not acting to slow climate change. Make no mistake; the truly hard choices are yet to come.

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