May 22, 2011

The great green wind scam

Not only will large-scale wind power blight Maine, but it won't lower emissions or reduce our oil dependence.


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The bottom line is that mountaintop industrial wind energy is two to three times more expensive than conventional sources. If you add the cost of the necessary new transmission lines and associated facilities, the price differential gets even bigger.

Why would it be in Maine's interest to destroy our mountaintops to create energy that is three times more expensive and will undoubtedly raise our electric rates? This becomes even more absurd when one considers that Maine already has a surplus of energy -- yes, we are a net exporter.

The Maine wind developers like to talk about the contribution of about $800 million spent to date on industrial wind in Maine. What they fail to mention is that most of this money was provided by federal government subsidies -- our tax dollars.

In addition, the bulk of the $800 million paid for turbines that were manufactured in foreign countries.

In truth, the economic benefit to Maine thus far has been small -- only a few hundred temporary construction jobs. The irony is that once these projects are completed, they create very few permanent jobs.

The increased cost to ratepayers and taxpayers for a small number of temporary construction jobs is many times more than the wages paid by the developers for these jobs.

So how do these developers get away with bilking billions of our tax dollars to generate wind energy by destroying our mountaintops with industrial turbines, which in the long run are going to significantly raise our energy costs? This is a con job and a scam.

By any measure, mountaintop industrial wind use is uneconomical. It will not only raise electric rates (which is terrible for business), it will also have the unintended consequence of undermining Maine's most reliable and profitable industries -- tourism and recreation. It is our "quality of place" that brings 34 million visitors each year. It is our quality of place that generates $10 billion in sales each year. Our quality of place is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

If we destroy the golden egg, our competitive advantage will disappear and folks will no longer want to come to "Vacationland," where every mountain has monstrous 400-foot towers with flashing lights. They might as well stay home in New Jersey.

Another unintended consequence of mountaintop industrial wind development is its impact on property values.

Recent nationwide studies have documented that property values plummet 20 percent to 40 percent within a two-mile radius of industrial wind turbines. There are already scores of folks in Maine who, because of the noise and visual pollution of wind turbines, would like to sell and move. However, most of these folks are stuck because nobody wants to buy their property.

How can we let these profiteers do this to Maine families?

In the final analysis, this house of cards the wind developers have built is going to come crashing down -- but not because these folks have seen the light, become less greedy and developed an ecological conscience.

Yes, like Enron, mountaintop industrial wind development is based on a pyramid scheme that is unsustainable. Industrial wind not only is unreliable, but the cost, even with the huge subsidies, cannot compete with the cost of natural gas.

At $4 per million BTUs, natural gas costs would have to more than double to become more expensive than mountaintop industrial wind, with its $6.65 per million BTU subsidy. Switching to natural gas on a national scale -- replacing coal -- would have the added advantage of reducing electricity generation-related greenhouse gases by as much as 75 percent.

In conclusion, I want to make it clear that I believe strongly that we need to move away from fossil fuels. We need to pursue renewables -- residential/community wind and solar, geothermal, micro-hydro, etc. Energy conservation and efficiency should be our top priority.

Unfortunately, intermittent and non-storable mountaintop industrial wind power is not the answer.

It is not the benign "green" industry some would like to have you believe.

The environmental damage to this place we love and call Maine will be catastrophic. It will significantly raise our electric rates, which will stifle business development and drain dollars out of the pockets of Mainers. It will reduce tourism and recreation revenue as well as strip Mainers of wealth through reduced property values.

The gold rush of wind developers, feeding at the trough of federal and state subsidies, must be stopped before Maine is transformed from a wild and bucolic paradise to an industrial wind wasteland.

Jonathan Carter is director of the Forest Ecology Network.


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