Wind energy has developed rapidly in Maine. It has benefited from federal financial incentives and clean-energy policies that are broadly supported by the Legislature and the administration of Gov. John Baldacci. The industry has directly invested $700 million in Maine during the past four years, according to the Maine Wind Industry Initiative, a new trade group.

But lately, wind energy has been buffeted by some public misgivings.

Towns have approved ordinances that limit commercial wind development anywhere near homes.

Wind power opponents have asked the attorney general to investigate a recent media report that Kurt Adams, the former chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission and now a senior vice president for First Wind, received an ownership interest in the company while still on the state payroll. The compensation had no value at the time, and Adams said he did nothing improper.

Some of Maine’s candidates for governor have expressed concerns about the pace, cost and impact of wind energy. Their comments suggest that the next governor may not share Baldacci’s enthusiasm for wind power and its potential.

Despite such developments, eight in 10 residents say they support wind power development in Maine, according to a Critical Insights poll released Wednesday. That’s down 7 points since last fall, but support remains high across all demographic and economic groups, the polling showed.

Wind opponents, led by the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power, has a different take on the data. They see the drop as a sign that residents are starting to turn against land-based, commercial-scale development, and that the trend will continue.

Maine officials remain committed to a goal of building 3,000 megawatts of land-based wind capacity and 5,000 megawatts offshore by 2030. That much activity could create 18,000 jobs in construction, servicing and manufacturing, the industry estimates.

Similar ambitions exist elsewhere, according to Paul Williamson, director of the Maine Wind Industry Initiative.

For instance, a subsidiary of South Korean manufacturer Daewoo recently announced plans for a factory in Nova Scotia that will make wind towers and blades for North America. The province contributed $20 million to form a partnership with Daewoo. If Maine doesn’t create a welcoming environment for wind power, Williamson said, such manufacturing jobs will go elsewhere.

The threat of lost jobs is a strong talking point for the industry during Wind Energy Week, according to Chris O’Neil, a lawyer who represents Friends of Maine’s Mountains. But that risk, he said, doesn’t justify building what his group feels are unneeded projects that produce expensive electricity.

“It seems the industry is feeling an urgent need to justify its existence,” O’Neil said.

 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

[email protected]