Maine and Wind Energy Policy

Posted by Andy Estrada

Maine is a potential hotbed for new wind energy production. Over the past decade, hundreds of wind turbines have been constructed, many in rural areas. These wind energy projects have created hundreds of jobs and now power around 160,000 homes throughout the state. Clean energy initiatives have greatly benefited Maine’s environment and economy, which is why state legislators have set goals to produce 2,000 MW of installed wind energy capacity by 2015 and 3,000 MW by 2020. However, the increase in wind projects in the state is no thanks to Governor Paul LePage and his Administration. LePage, who has experience in private sector management, has proclaimed himself the “leader in Maine business,” but his private sector leadership has not been reflected in his policies on and actions toward Maine’s wind energy industry.

In the course of the last 14 months alone, LePage's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has denied at least three major projects simply due to aesthetic reasons. For example, in August, DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho denied the application of First Wind, a company that proposed the construction of 16 turbines because the project would have an “unreasonable adverse effect on the scenic character and existing uses related to scenic character.” To be fair, the area of proposed development, Bowers Hill, is beautiful. But the project would have produced 48 MW of energy, which is enough to power an average 20,000 homes. Furthermore, this development would produce jobs and give a boost to the economy of rural eastern Penobscot County. It is perplexing that Maine’s “pro-business” governor would chase away such a pro-business proposal.

However, LePage isn’t all business; he supposedly has a great love of Maine’s environment, which could justify the rejection of some land-based wind power proposals. But surely he would lend his support to offshore wind proposals, right? Apparently not. In mid-October, the LePage Administration succeeded in crushing the proposed offshore wind project of the Norwegian company Statoil. Maine’s Public Utilities Commission finalized a term sheet with Statoil earlier this year, but LePage led the charge in destroying the $120 million wind project, saying he preferred a project developed by the University of Maine system instead.

The notion of forgoing a big business proposal to accommodate the public college’s efforts sounds great; after all, everyone wants to stand up for the little guy. But by rejecting a fire-ready proposal, LePage has closed the door to dozens of new jobs and a major source of new money for the state’s economy.

Now, if the University of Maine could create similar opportunities, that wouldn’t be so bad, but the Governor’s administration has underfunded Maine’s public education system for years now, with no sign of changing its practices in light of this recent offshore wind proposal decision. For example, the University of Maine’s FY2014 Operating Budget Plan indicates that “the State appropriation for FY14 is $6.2 million below the FY08 level.” Furthermore, Lepage’s Office of Policy Management (OPM) recently set a “savings target” for the University of Maine System, which requires the public education institution to cut another two million dollars in spending. OPM’s October report encourages the UMaine System to cut costs by reducing maintenance expenses, consolidating IT functions, reviewing their employee health insurance programs, and eliminating programs. Thus, LePage rejected a big-business proposal in favor of a project that will likely struggle to find the funding necessary to launch in any significant way in the near future. This is especially disappointing when one considers that the Statoil project could have been approved while the LePage Administration simultaneously lent state support to a University of Maine offshore wind proposal that would then be launched in the future.

Governor LePage has served as a continued hindrance to the development of Maine’s sustainable, economy-boosting wind energy industry. It is time for LePage to start acting like the "business-friendly" governor he purports to be, before Maine falls even further behind its New England neighbors in aggregate wind energy production.