Mar 26, 2010

Maine inshore wind wannabes try to spin their legislative loss











The Baldacci administration is working to put the best spin on the peeling away of state waters-related windfarm incentives from their ocean energy task force bill LD 1810.

A statement rushed into print by the Maine offshore wind energy task force announced that the administration's policy continued to be:"There is nothing to prevent a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power from proposing a project in Maine state waters today."

But opponents of windfarms in Maine state waters point out that this has been the status quo since long before the ocean energy task force itself was even proposed, and suggest the administration is trying to save face over its failure to obtain corporate welfare for would be state waters windfarmers.

"Maine's existing submerged lands leasing law is broad enough that anyone can apply for a lease to  build almost anything." said Penobscot Bay Watch Ron Huber. "A windfarm, a fishfarm, a floating dock; you can apply to  the state to lease marine submerged lands and the waters over them for any reason you like. Doesn't mean you'll be able to get it approved, though." he added.

Huber said that  LD 1810 originally offered  the same incentives to build windfarms in state waters as  had been enacted  by the legislature several years ago  for upland windfarms: price supports,  immunity from environmental laws,  unaccountability to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection, authority to 'take' land to run their cables through to the grid.   "Not to mention  stripping towns'  of municipal authority to regulate windfarms within their borders," Huber said, "And fat fees to keep LURC and MDEP budget mavens happy.

Without these incentives, he said "the wind industry won't come in and squat on your natural resources. That's what the legislature gave Big Energy when it passed legislation opening up Maine's mountains to windfarming. The wind turbine industry has exploited it ruthlessly."

But LD 1810 had three flaws, critics said, that led to its extreme makeover:

1. The bill also deals with setting out incentives for OFFSHORE windfarming - an entirely dfifferent  set of economic and scientific players interested in waters well  beyond Maine's marine boundary.

2. Unlike land windfarms proposed on private lands, ocean windfarms would be in public lands heavily exploited by a variety of important businesses already licensed to be there, and willing to fight to the death the proposed incursion into their economic futures.

3. The bill directed the state to require the closing down of Maine's heating oil industry, another politically connected interest group

Despite its reservations, the Adminsitratino was convinced by the wind industry and its NGO supporters CLF, NRCM, Island Institute and Maine Audubon that the heating industry, fishermen, and coastal tourism industries should be brushed aside for the greater good, and off-the-shelf windfarm operations speedily set up in state waters as a 'transitional technology' to deepwater offshore wind.

"They were wrong". Huber said. "The oilers, the fishermen and the other marine resource economic interests bit back. With testimony en masse. With letters, with petitions, phone calls and emails. Good old fashioned Maine civics in action."

Legislators, including House Speaker Hannah Pingree, Marine Resources Committee Chair Leila Percy and many others, including those on the Utility and Energy Committee, got the message.The bill lost momentum, with legislative leaders declaring the bill must be "stripped down".  Worried windmill investors fretted that Maine was not being sufficiently 'business-friendly'.

Then the other shoe dropped. The offshore wind farm technology developers at the University of Maine saw the legislators looking askance at state waters windmills, and worried that tax incentives and other goodies for their baby - also in the LD1810 - could go out with the inshore bathwater if the bill stalled over nearshore concerns. So the academics too started disparaging state waters windmills to the legislature.  

It was unbecoming, they said, for a state like Maine - now on track to lead the nation with futuristic over-the-horizon floating offshore windfarms - to clutter and disrupt its nearshore waters economy and ecology with off-the-shelf imported shallow water windmills. Beter that the state focus solely on offshore windfarming.

This unexpected put down of inshore wind stiffened the legislators' resolve to protect maine's inshore fisheries. With the aid of the Maine's Lobstermens Association's executive director Patrice McCarron, the Utility and Energy Committee trimmed away the incentive package for state waters windmills from the bill. The parts of LD 1810l mandating reduction in the use of heating oil by Mainers also disappeared.  Cleansed of its inshore wind incentives and heating oil disincentives, the bill was voted out of committee with a unanimous Ought To Pass as Amended.

"This was a real Waterloo for the ocean windfarm industry's nearshore plans" Huber said, Governor Baldacci thought he was sweeping all opposition aside. He was badly mistaken."

So where do things stand?

"Like it was before the bill was written: non existent," Penobscot Bay activist Huber said. He added that while there is nothing to prevent a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power from proposing a project in Maine state waters, "nor is there any corporate welfare or hamstringing of state environmental laws to attract them. That's good enough for now."

























The words seem straightforward, in the hastily written essay rushed into print by the Baldacci administration's Beth Nagusky and by former head of Maine Lobsterman's Association Pat White, now a wind energy spokesman. The op-ed was penned after LD 1810 the Ocean Energy Task Force bill  was finalized March 24th by the Utility and Energy Committee.  

The money quote in their joint essay "Passage of ocean energy bill the responsible step" is  



"There is nothing to prevent a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power from proposing a project in Maine state waters today."




If Nagusky and White are proudly announcing a new era of inshore wind development, then what curiously apologetic language to use!   In essence:  



We can't stop 'em!

It is...almost true. But NOT at all in the way the essayists intended. Let me explain why this bill  is very good news for Maine's wild marine environment. Why I got a delicious sense of deja vu when I read that "nothing to prevent" line. 

For that "nothing to prevent" line is exactly what they said a year ago at Energy Ocean 09, and earlier this month at the wind seminar at the Maine Fishermens Forum:  "There is nothing to prevent a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power from proposing a project in Maine state waters today."  Meaning that Maine's existing submerged lands leasing law is general enough that anyone could apply for a lease  to build anything, including  a windfarm. in state waters right now. Without any changes in state law. True enough. In fact, you can apply under that law for a lease to build anything in Maine state waters. Say, a floating circus big tent, with a big seahorse aquaculture operation on the side -the trained ocean equines to push it around in state waters. You can apply for a lease to try ANYTHING. The Bureau of Parks and Lands will be pleased to take your application fees.  But expect any special bending of the rules.

For as is known to victims of landside windfarming, without a fat package of tax incentives, corporate welfare and immunity from environmental and conservation laws, the wind industry won't come in and squat on your natural resources. That's what the legislature gave Big Wind last time, when they opened up Maine's mountains to windfarming, and the industry has exploited it ruthlessly. The result: windfarm proposal after proposal rushed into Augusta for approval, and ever since, under a dense cloud of opposition in the courts and other civic arenas, utility scale wind projects, flanked by join-em-if-you-can't-lick-'em NGOs like Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Council of Maine, parts of  Maine Audubon, Sierra Club and others, all feasting on industry-fronted grant and consultancy money, have begun cluttering Maine's incredible upland mountains. 

Addicted to incentive money, thus yearning for new frontiers, Big Wind's investors looked appraisingly at the sea. They worked with the Baldacci administration to create a bill packed with the same incentives to build windfarms in state waters: corporate welfare, lots of fat fees to keep the agencies happy, immunity from environmental laws, the right to 'take' coastal land to run their cables through to the grid, the stripping towns of municipal authority to challenge windfarms in their borders...the usual nasties.   

But they overlooked three things: One: that this bill also directed the state to force the closing down of the heating oil industry and its replacement by electric heating;  Two: that in addition to state waters, the bill also deals with setting up corpoarte welfare for OFFSHORE windfarming -  in federal & EEZ waters beyond the Maine's marine boundary. Three: that, unlike land windfarms, ocean windfarms would be in public lands heavily exploited by a variety of important businesses  already licensed to be there, perfectly willing to fight to the death this proposed incursion into their economic futures.  

But the dazzle and wealth of the Big Windies convinced the Baldacci administration that they could just shove the heating industry, the fishermen, the sailors and coastal tourism industries aside.  

So up comes the bill LD 1810 with great fanfare, with acclamations that fishermen, heating oil suppliers and others were to patriotically give up great chunks of fishing grounds to enrich absentee corporate investors to fight global warming. 

Didn't fly. The oilers, the fishermen and the other marine resource economic interests began to bite back. With testimony en masse. With letters, with petitions,  phone calls and emails. Good old fashioned civics in action. Simple clear message: you legislators must not destroy our livelihoods. Bad bill! Bad bill!  And the legislators, including House Speaker Hannah Pingree, Marine Resource Committee chair Leila Percy and many others, including those on the Utility and Energy Committee - got the message loud and clear, and start to hem and haw.  

That was bad enough to the inshore windmill wannabes. But then they got another unpleasant shock: The offshore wind developers at the University of  Maine saw the legislators  looking askance at state waters windmills. They started worrying that corporate welfare for their baby - also in the bill LD1810 - could go out with the inshore bathwater! So the academics too started dissing state waters windmillery as stupid. As an economic hardship for existing state waters users. As unbecoming for a state like Maine, which is now on the track to LEAD the nation with over-the-horizon floating offshore windfarming. 

This surprise attack by what the inshore windies thought were their offshore allies stiffened the legislators' resolve. They set about cutting away the incentive package for state waters windmill stuff, to the great joy of the Maine Lobstermens Association, whose executive director Patrice McCarron helped the committee go over the bill with a finetoothed comb deleting the inshore wind benefits package, even to removal of a line extolling inshore windfarming in the "Whereases" section of the bill.  

Cleansed of its inshore wind kerflufflery, the bill passes the committee unanimously  So inshore wind development in Maine is back to the default we had BEFORE the hearings and the bill. As M.s Nagusky and Mr. White intone:

"There is nothing to prevent a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power from proposing a project in Maine state waters today."

Aye. "Nothing" as in No corporate welfare for inshore wind. No suspension of environmental laws for inshore wind, No requirement that Maine utilities must purchase power from inshore wind developers. Not a thing. Nothing. 

So indeed, "Nothing (i.e. the absence of govt handouts) is preventing  a developer of offshore wind, wave or tidal power "from proposing a project in Maine state waters today.". May it always be that way.  There remains authorization to accept lease applications for a pilot wind and tidal projects in state waters, but only tiny R&D projects. 

Bob Dylan said it: "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose."

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