Friday, October 09, 2009

Wind meeting draws planners, marchers

The 300 attendees at the first statewide wind power conference get a national perspective on the trend.

October 7, 2009

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — The nation is increasingly looking to wind for new power generation and Maine has a role to play, an official with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Wind Technology Center said Tuesday.

Larry Flowers, national technical director of Wind Power America at the center, spoke to about 300 people at Maine's first statewide wind power conference, at the Augusta Civic Center.

Flowers, Gov. John Baldacci and others addressed the group at the beginning of the day, laying out national trends and where Maine fits in. In the afternoon, attendees sat in on sessions ranging from wind power generation for cities and towns to energy transmission issues in Maine.

Outside, about 40 people protested Maine's wind power projects and the current regulatory process.

Flowers said that in 1999, four states were using wind power on a "serious" level: Minnesota, Iowa, Texas and California. This year, 26 states have more than 100 megawatts of generation installed, Flowers said, and nine have more than 1,000 megawatts installed.

In the next few days, when the Kibby Mountain project's turbines start turning, Maine will have 170 megawatts installed. The state has a goal of producing 2,000 megawatts from wind by 2015, and 3,000 megawatts by 2020.

Flowers said that, nationally, 28,000 megawatts of wind power generation has been installed. Two states produce at least 10 percent of their power from wind, he said – Iowa at 13.3 percent, and Minnesota at 10.4 percent.

Nationally, 1.8 percent of the country's power comes from wind. The national goal, said Flowers, is to hit 20 percent by 2030.

Baldacci returned recently from a wind power trade mission to Spain, Germany and Norway. He talked about his visit to the world's first deep-water offshore wind turbine, which was installed this summer in the North Sea about six miles off the coast of Norway.

"It was an engineering marvel, but we can do that here," Baldacci said. "We're going to be part of the national energy solution."

Maine people and businesses are starting to look at producing wind turbines in the state, and generating power here instead of importing it, Baldacci said.

He spoke about the importance of energy independence, as well. "We've been through too many contrived (oil) shortages, real or imagined, that are outside of our control," Baldacci said.

He acknowledged the protesters who began to gather outside the civic center about 10 a.m.

"Everybody needs to be heard from," he said, "but we need to take action."

Outside, Steve Bennett of Freedom displayed a picture of his 200-year-old home with a year-old wind turbine looming in the background. There are three 400-foot turbines around his home, part of the Beaver Ridge wind project.

The one in the picture is 2,900 feet from his home, Bennett said. He said he is unhappy with the project and thinks wind technology isn't worth the expense to the government in the form of credits, tax breaks, grants and other subsidies.

Asked for other options for power, he said, "Nuclear – we know it works, and we know it's safe. Hydro, if we want green."

He said there are 12 other homes around the Beaver Ridge project, and 15 young children who are bothered by the turbines. From October to February, the angle of the sun contributes to a strobe effect from the turbine blades, he said, with quick shadows passing over his house.

"If I were susceptible to those types of things, I think I'd freak out," Bennett said.

Other protesters carried signs decrying big business, such as "Big Wind Equals Big Corruption."

Former Green Party gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Carter, executive director of the Forest Ecology Network, said the protesters aren't against wind power per se, but are unhappy with the state process used to locate wind farms to date.

The welfare of people and the environment hasn't been considered, Carter said, and decision-makers, including some environmental groups, are willing to sacrifice "ecological integrity" for wind development.

"I would strongly disagree with that," said Dylan Voorhees, energy project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, when asked later about Carter's comments.

Voorhees, one of the main presenters of the conference, pointed to reliance on fossil fuels, and particularly the practice of mountaintop mining for coal in the United States, and said, "We need better choices."

The presence of environmental protesters outside, and environmental supporters inside, demonstrated the intricacy of the wind power debate.

While there's broad agreement in the environmental community about the perils of fossil fuels, wind as a renewable resource doesn't enjoy full support.

The National Resources Council of Maine has actively supported each of the current sites for wind power in the state, said Voorhees. That includes the sites being protested Tuesday.

"We don't want to see wind power developed on the Allagash," he said. "What that means is, we need to put wind power where there's development."

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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