Monday, January 22, 2007

Redington wind-power project an environmental boost

Maine Today
David Wilby
January 21, 2007

The Jan. 7 column by Steve Clark ("Why transform wild Maine mountains into industrial sites?") criticizing the proposed wind farm on Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble Mountain near Rangeley was misleading and off-target.

In an effort to dismiss the Land Use Regulation Commission's staff recommendation that this project be approved, Clark made a number of shortsighted claims and exaggerated predictions -- starting with the far-fetched description of wind turbines as "industrial-scale power production facilities."

Based on the many comments submitted to LURC, Clark is in the minority in viewing wind turbines lazily spinning along a mountain ridge as an offensive encroachment of industrial development. Many people at the LURC hearings described the sight of wind turbines as not only compatible with the natural surroundings and a fairly benign sight, but as an essential step if we are ever going to get serious about producing clean, renewable energy for Maine.

While Clark's efforts to protect the Maine woods are commendable, he fails to understand that the threat to them is not coming from developers of wind power, it's from the wind itself -- airborne pollution from oil-, coal- and gas-burning power plants that produce a near-constant haze around the very mountains he seeks to protect and contributes to global warming.

The Redington Wind Farm and other Maine wind projects seek to turn that wind into a force for change, utilizing our natural resources for clean, renewable power.

It's ironic too that Clark's column appeared on a weekend when temperatures in Maine reached 70 degrees -- in January! -- and during a period of tremendous upheaval in the oil-rich Middle East.

The connections between these events and the urgent need for renewable energy projects like the Redington Wind Farm demand a broader perspective than Clark's narrow focus on visual impact.

Fortunately, the LURC staff rejected Clark's arguments and has recommended approval of the project when the full commission meets this coming Wednesday. They understand that the significant benefits of the project far outweigh the potential negatives.

Those benefits include:

Preventing more than 700,000 pounds of pollution per day from existing power plants -- equivalent to taking 22,000 cars off the road;

Allowing Maine customers -- local towns, hospitals and schools -- to purchase the electricity produced at the facility in 10-year fixed-price contracts, providing a more stable energy supply than the power produced by traditional fossil fuel plants;

Saving the equivalent of 50,000 gallons of oil per day;

Reducing emissions that cause global warming; and

Producing enough power for 40,000 Maine homes.

Not only does Clark fail to acknowledge even grudgingly the significant environmental benefits of the Redington Wind Farm, he mischaracterizes the project's location, giving the impression that the wind farm will despoil an untouched area of the North Woods.

In fact, the Redington Wind Farm is located in Maine's working forest -- near existing roads, power lines, a biomass facility, and halfway between the Sugarloaf and Saddleback ski resorts. It is surrounded by actively managed timberlands and a U.S. Navy survival school. Locating the wind farm in this region actually minimizes environmental impacts.

Clark also fails to mention the economic benefits the project will bring to the Carrabassett Valley region.

The $150 million Redington Wind Farm project will contribute approximately $500,000 in annual taxes to the state and local economy.

It will create approximately 100 jobs during its year-long construction. These workers will stay in area hotels, dine in local restaurants and make a major contribution to the area's economy. After construction, there will be about 10 direct permanent jobs at the facility.

Clark's one-sided, negative view of the wind-power project was unconvincing to the LURC staff, just as it is to the majority of Maine people who have said repeatedly in public opinion polls that they favor the project by large margins.
But Clark is right about one thing: the commission's vote on Jan. 24 will have far-reaching consequences.

It will determine whether we as a state are willing to move toward a sensible energy policy based on clean, renewable power or maintain the status quo as a nation dependent on foreign supplies of fossil fuel that foul our environment.

It's the big picture -- not the narrow view -- that we all need to consider.

About the Author

David Wilby is executive director of Independent Energy Producers of Maine, a not-for-profit association of Maine's renewable power producers.

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