Mar 11, 2010

The War of 1810 - Maine's fishermen move to repel Big Wind invaders from their home waters.

A good day for fishermen at Maine's State Legislature concerning LD 1810, An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Governor's Ocean Energy Task Force.  

Prelude to battle. In the 36 hours before the hearing, members of the Utility and Energy Committee  heard loud and clear from Maine fishermen about their extreme displeasure with the notion of this bill opening up Maine state waters to nearshore commercial windfarms, pushing scallopers shrimpers & groundfishermen out.  

A war of words.  At the hearing, not only fishery activists, but Representative Leila Percy, co-chair of the Marine Resources Committee, let them know both that the bill  threatened Maine fishermen and was not acceptable, and that she spoke for Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree (who couldn't be there)  on this as well.  Listen to Representative Percy here (2 minute mp3)  Other legislators too, chimed in that their constituents weren't having any part of it.. Listen to them all  (7 recordings so far; more being added. Keep checking back)

Shock and awe. As the TV cameras rolled, and energy lobbyists reeled in dismay,  the Utility and Energy Committee switched from unqualified support for LD 1810, to acknowledging two alternatives: either 

(1) turning LD 1810 into a Resolve, and shipping it round  to other legislative committees and commercial fishing communities next year before taking any action, or 

(2)  removing from the bill all wording related to anything that would facilitate  commercial windfarm operations in Maine state waters.

Under # 2, the bill would continue with sections that give the wind industry tax breaks and immunizes it from a variety of conservation and environmental laws, also known as  "streamlining"  the laws.  "Streamlining? More like amputating the law," one conservation  activist grumped to the committee,  and the room filled with uneasy laughter.

Also remaining in the altered LD 1810  would be a controversial "Welfare Wind" section, This part of the bill forces Mainers to subsidize the wind industry by requiring electricity utilities to purchase wind-generated power for triple what they pay Bangor Hydro and other  electricity providers,  but then allows the utilities  to pass  the increased cost on to Maine consumers.

The Enemy of my enemy is my Friend. The oil heating industry also showed up in opposition to LD 1810  In particular, they opposed a section that calls for phasing their industry out of the home and commercial heating business and requiring Maine consumers to use electricity for heating.  

While oil and lobsters don't mix well in nature, in Augusta they may together push LD 1810, and the energy industry behind it, far away from its original goals.  

Counteroffensive in the offing?  The Windies will surely strike back and try to retake the conceptual ground , will try to recapture the bill and keep it as they wrote it.  It will be important for those concerned with keeping Maine state waters open for fishing and closed to wind extraction to keep up the pressure on legislators   The work session where the final decision will be made will happen  next week. 

Stay tuned. Stay ready.

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