Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Wind and Snow

Bangor Daily News
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Much of the opposition to putting wind turbines on Redington Mountain comes from the fact that it is currently undeveloped and part of a large unbroken forest. There is less opposition to Maine Mountain Power's proposal to put turbines on nearby Black Nubble Mountain. Before Maine decides whether to allow wind farms atop its unspoiled mountains, it should consider putting them on mountains that are already developed.

Earlier this week, Vail Resorts, which owns five ski areas in Colorado and California plus lodging facilities in seven states, announced that all its power would come from wind. The company is actually buying wind power credits, not wind power directly from a supplier. Vail is buying 152,000-megawatt hours per year's worth of credits from Renewable Choice Energy. That company will then buy wind power from producers in the Midwest that will be put on the national power grid. The resort's power supply will still come from local producers, which in Colorado is mainly from coal-fired plants. Nationally, however, there will be more renewable power on the grid.

Maine resorts could take this a step further and keep the benefits local by considering the installation wind turbines on their mountains. Ski resorts already have lift towers, roads and other man-made structures on their mountains, so wind turbines would not be out of place. Plus, many skiers are supportive of environmental causes and would likely appreciate knowing that a resort is powered by a non-polluting, renewable source of energy.

The Maine Land Use Regulation Commission is currently considering an application from Maine Mountain Power to build 30 wind turbines on mountains in western Maine to generate 90 megawatts of electricity. The company proposes 12 wind turbines on Redington Mountain and 18 on Black Nubble. Environmental groups oppose the project because it would break up a 35,000 acre area without roads, construction would harm fragile alpine ecosystems and the turbines would be visible from the Appalachian Trail, among other reasons.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine has suggested that the company build just on Black Nubble because turbines there would be shielded from view and the project would require less road building and habitat fragmentation. Putting turbines also at nearby ski resorts could allow such a scaled-back project to remain viable.

The only large-scale wind farm being constructed in Maine is atop Mars Hill Mountain in Aroostook County. That mountain is home to a small ski area, one reason local officials believe there was not a lot of opposition to the project.

Many questions - is the area close to a transmission line, is the topography suitable for turbines, etc. would need to be answered - but considering building on Maine's developed mountains before looking at unspoiled landscapes makes sense.

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