Friday, March 7, 2014
By Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland
PORTLAND — It’s not often that Maine – or, frankly, any state – has an opportunity to become the home, the hub, of a worldwide innovator.
Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, is president of the Maine Senate.
It’s not often that Maine has a billion-dollar company knocking on our door promising hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, hundreds of jobs in a cutting-edge industry and long-term collaboration with some of our most reputable local businesses, like Bath Iron Works and Reed & Reed.
Well, opportunity knocked.
Earlier this year, Maine inked a deal with Statoil, a Norwegian energy innovator, to develop a $200 million ocean energy project. Some described this project as “the next Google or Apple for Maine.” A legacy industry.
Much like lumber, lobster and blueberries, Maine is rich in another natural resource: wind. It’s a resource that you can’t grow or harvest. Either you have it or you don’t – and Maine has it. And those in the burgeoning energy industry want it because wind is the energy generator of the future.
Statoil is an international expert in the manufacturing and production of wind energy solutions and it began courting Maine more than two years ago. And along the way, it invested more than $3 million in Maine preparing for its bid and eventual contract to build a first-of-its-kind floating wind turbine in deep water off the shore of Boothbay Harbor.
And then the project came to a screeching halt.
Statoil recently announced that it was pulling out of Maine and terminating its interest and investment in Maine. Why? Not because the wind stopped blowing. Not because they weren’t over the moon with the quality and caliber of our workforce and the local, on the ground partnerships they established. But instead, they cited “political uncertainty,” “changes” and “project delays which have made the project outlook too uncertain to proceed.”
To some, Statoil’s decision was not a surprise; the writing was on the wall after a series of political machinations orchestrated by Gov. LePage.
The proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” came late in the legislative session when Gov. LePage spearheaded a measure that undermined and jeopardized the existing agreement between the state and Statoil by reopening the bidding process and putting Statoil’s project on hold.
Gov. LePage yanked out the welcome mat and changed the rules of the game. Not only did this move essentially close the door on Statoil’s development, but it was also a huge step backward for crucial energy policy for Maine.
Gov. LePage’s contempt for wind power is well-known, in spite of its broad and overwhelming support by Maine people.
But to be clear, the devastation of this broken deal is not about how you feel about wind. It’s about the irreversible damage and blow to Maine’s reputation: It’s a message that Maine doesn’t keep its promises. It’s a message of bad faith. It’s a message that a handshake and a deal mean nothing – even if you want to invest millions.
This is a terrible message to send to the rest of the country, or in this case, to the world.
Statoil is taking its project and its dollars elsewhere: perhaps Scotland, perhaps Japan, perhaps somewhere else on the eastern U.S. seaboard, but it’s not going to be in Maine. We took ourselves off the map – and out of the game – and not just for Statoil.
Gov. LePage is known for saying that capital goes where it’s wanted and stays where it’s appreciated. In this case, Gov. LePage failed. He literally turned away hundreds of millions of dollars in economic opportunity and denied hundreds of jobs to Maine people, and he sent the message that Maine is an unwelcome place to do business. This was politics at its worst, and now, we all will suffer the consequences as a result.
There are those in the administration who continue to smear the project and Statoil; they suggest that Maine should not be jumping at the first opportunity. I ask you to stop. Maine’s reputation has been damaged enough. We have now lost that opportunity.
I, along with Democratic leaders, fought hard for the outcome with Statoil to be different. We all now must be a part of the solution and rebuilding of Maine’s brand, growing Maine’s economy and recruiting the next opportunity for Maine workers.
It is my hope that Democrats don’t have to go it alone and instead we have a willing partner who can see the big picture and accurately reflect the way Mainers do business, where handshakes mean something and promises aren’t broken.
— Special to the Press Herald