Feb 3, 2015

Maine: The wind energy plantation, Part I OP-ED

From Camden Herald/Knox Village Soup

Maine: The wind energy plantation, Part I

The advertising flyer supplementing many electric bills in Maine presents the smiling visage of a hardy-looking, flannel-clad “lineman” extolling the virtues of the electric utility upgrading the grid to improve reliability for Maine consumers.
Approximately $1.56 billion has been spent on electric grid upgrades and improvements. If this were all spent to benefit Maine electric customers (even in a long-term view), that would be a credible plus for the power companies. We’d be happy not to have major power failures for days or weeks on end — as some experienced earlier this winter due to storm damage — and that is the preventive rationale implied by the utility companies' advertising and press releases.
However, when one begins to unravel the tangled web of Maine’s energy policies, and looks at who actually writes them and promotes the passage of legislation, and for whose benefit they exist, a very different reality begins to intrude. Wind developers have enormous financial resources, and will utilize them to legislatively force their agenda on Maine. It is not about generating “green power” for Maine, it is about money and political clout, involving a maze of federal money, grants, tax breaks and sweetheart deals.
Recently an article in the Bangor Daily News headlined, “CMP, Emera team up for wind project — Aroostook County farm would be state’s largest.” The article goes on to state, “the transmission plan to connect the planned 250 megawatt wind farm to New England’s grid would allow developer EDP Renewables to move ahead with requesting permits for the project from the Dept. of Environmental Protection in the coming weeks.” The report also reveals that EDPR, the wind developer, has “already secured power purchase agreements in Connecticut.”
So, they get an agreement to sell the power in another state before they even have a permit in place to build the wind turbines, or even more significantly, before the Maine ratepayers of CMP and Emera (without knowing it) pay for the transmission lines to get the power to the grid out of state! By the way, until last year Connecticut law prohibited the construction of wind turbines within Connecticut. Only because of the expiration of federal tax credits in 2015 did it lift its ban on construction in-state. Money talks.
Another industry giant, First Wind, after being denied permits for a third time (by DEP and BEP) for its Bowers Mountain project, arrogantly went ahead nine days later and signed a 15-year agreement with National Grid, a utility that supplies electricity to customers in Rhode Island and surrounding states. This agreement promises to have the Bowers Mountain project up, running and sending power to Rhode Island by March 2017. How did Maine become the “green energy plantation” for outside interests? Read on.
The Wind Energy Act of 2008, promoted as an emergency measure by Gov. John Baldacci, effectively allowed the wind industry lobbyists to write their own law. Suppress competition from hydropower, fine. Eliminate local controls such as zoning and regional impact, fine. Don’t want to be held to an industry code of ethics, fine. Included in this law was a restriction on the import to or production of hydropower in Maine of more than 100 Megawatts.
So even though we could be importing cheaper hydropower from Hydro Quebec, certainly a renewable energy source, we are prohibited from doing so in order to benefit the uneconomical wind industry. Famed investor Warren Buffet has been quoted as saying, “I will do anything that is covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate… For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”
Recently, the industry representatives came back to then-Maine Senate President Justin Alfond with a way to maneuver around the LePage administration’s opposition to industrial wind. Modestly titled L.D.1750, “An act to amend the Maine Administrative Procedure Act and clarify wind energy laws,” it is a textbook example of how an industry runs the legislative process for its interests. Mr. Alfond was very accommodating to the wind industry attorneys and lobbyists, as the many pages of emails reviewed by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting clearly showed. The lobbyists and lawyers for the wind industry wrote the bill, and coordinated with Alfond and staff to maneuver it through the legislative process.
A summary from LD 1750:
“This bill amends the Maine Administrative Procedure Act by amending the definition of 'rule' and requiring that every agency decision be based on the best evidence available to the agency. The bill also amends the laws governing expedited wind energy developments to provide that in determining the tangible benefits of an expedited wind energy development, the primary siting authority may not require the submission of evidence of the energy and emissions-related benefits or make specific findings related to energy and emissions-related benefits. Those benefits are presumed.
"The bill also provides that in determining whether a proposed expedited wind energy development will have an unreasonable adverse effect on scenic character or existing uses and whether an applicant must provide a visual impact assessment, the primary siting authority is required to consider the energy and emissions-related benefits of the expedited wind energy development, the policy objectives of the Maine Wind Energy Act and the energy, environmental and economic benefits associated with the expedited wind energy development.”
Apparently, political agendas trump factual evidence or citizen input in these situations. If the proponents say there are benefits, but are not required to provide credible proof, you have to believe them anyway. Their policy objectives clearly override any of your concerns. Thankfully, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the bill and the Senate failed to override, but don’t get too complacent. They’ll be back.
Part 2 will delve into other aspects of Big Wind, including the contradiction of Maine environmental organizations' taking donations from First Wind and other industry interests to soften their views of industrial wind.

Comments (5)
POSTED BY: RONALD HORVATH Jan 31, 2015 09:37
Mr. Landrith:  Forever?  Really.  And what great edifice built in the last half century has lasted forever?  Sports stadiums are hardly lasting twenty years before some city, or sports franchise owner, decides they need a new one.  No, I repeat that taking down windmills will be a great deal easier than repairing our air and water that’s been subject to pollutants from fossil fuels for decades.   And maybe you should ask the residents along the Yellowstone River how “nonexistent” was the pipeline that burst and dumped thousands of barrels of crude into their drinking water, only last week, a repeat of a burst pipeline back in 2011 that dumped 42,000 barrels into the environment.  And those private funds probably belong to the Koch brothers who hold the leases on 1.1 million acres of tar sands oil land, an area the size of the state of Delaware.  You might also be interested in knowing that John Boehner invested $10,000 to $50,000 each in seven firms that have a stake in those oil sands.  This is nothing new for Mr. Boehner who has always attempted to profit politically and personally from selling votes and influence and who now courts the Koch brothers for both.  I'm sure that eminent domain to push any American landowner out of their way is tucked into the deal.

Yes, Mr. Landrith, the subject is wind, and, I might add, all the hot air expelled by the right to stop it from threatening their patron’s profits.  But the political shenanigans of the “wind” industry pale in comparison to the nefarious double dealings of the oil industry giants, and their minions.

POSTED BY: DALE LANDRITH Jan 31, 2015 07:56
Mr. Horvath
The subject is wind.  The Keystone is to be built with private funds by the pipeline company not taxpayer or oil driller funds. Once the pipeline is constructed it will be almost nonexistent as an eyesore.  The wind farms destroy Maine's landscape for generations or forever.

POSTED BY: RONALD HORVATH Jan 30, 2015 11:08
Well, some might say that there’s nothing wrong with producing an exportable commodity.  After all the new congress wants to build another pipeline simply to transport tar sands oil to foreign countries.  Is being an energy exporter such a bad thing especially after decades of complaining about the US being an energy importer?

And the oil and gas industry gets plenty of federal subsidies despite being immensely profitable.  Why would we want to provide tax breaks for them?  On the other hand it makes sense in terms of climate change to support a form of energy that doesn’t fill the atmosphere with pollutants or poison our groundwater.  Do you realize that every pollutant you come into contact with stays in your body tissues till the day you die?  Who knows, when fossil fuels are finally phased out, what the cost will be to clean up the damage, if it’s even possible.  Wind mills should be a great deal easier to dismantle with no nasty, lasting side effects.  That’s why it’s called “clean” energy.

POSTED BY: DALE LANDRITH Jan 30, 2015 10:51
Why not focus on what is important.  Maine does not provide tax credits to the oil and gas industry.  Maine does provide breaks for wind.  Why support wind for the benefit of transporting the electricity out of state?

POSTED BY: RONALD HORVATH Jan 29, 2015 15:34

“Big Wind?”  I understand your objection to any industry having undo influence in our government, state or national, but aren’t you being just a tad selective(or naive.)  Do you also object to the tens of billions of dollars that “Big Oil” takes out of taxpayer pockets in spite of being profitable to a fault?  Did you find the prescription drug program added to Medicare during the bush administration objectionable simply because it was unfunded and written by the lobbyists of “Big Pharmco?”  And do you object to the new banking regulations put forward by the new Republican congress –and written by “Big Banking”(Citigroup no less)- that guarantees their automatic bailout with taxpayer dollars the next time they gamble with the national economy?

“It's worth noting that the deal would also mean the expiration, in 2017, of tax credits that support the development of wind power because…  the oil and gas industry thinks they are unfair. (Doesn't the oil and gas industry receive billions in tax breaks? Er, well, hey, look over there!”)

And this should really tick you off.

“According to a report out today from the Sunlight Foundation, America’s most politically active 200 corporations spent $5.8 billion on federallobbying and campaign contributions between 2007 and 2012. Over this same period they received $4.4 trillion in federal business and support (or $760 for every dollar they spent). That $4.4 trillion represented two-thirds of the $6.5 trillion that individual taxpayers paid into the federal treasury in taxes. It included bailouts, price supports, a third of the value of all government contracts, and special tax breaks (these companies’ average effective tax rate was 17.7 percent although federal law sets the corporate tax rate at 35 percent). Wall Street was the largest source of campaign funds and the biggest beneficiary.” –Robert Reich, 11/17/2014
Make’s “big wind” sound like small potatoes, doesn’t it.

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