Earth, Air, Fire, and Water

Can Maine’s alternative-energy sources save the day?
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  September 19, 2007

It’s going to take more than screwing in a few compact fluorescent light bulbs to make a dent in the state’s — or the country’s — energy use. We're not condoning environmental laxity; rather, we're acknowledging the importance of long-term, large-scale investments, both public and private, in clean energy technology.

Despite scattered NIMBY-ism, despite arduous permitting processes, despite the newness of some technologies (and the costliness of some old ones), Maine is poised to make good on Governor John Baldacci’s vow to produce 10 percent of the state’s energy with renewable power by 2017.

This summer, the governor created a statewide wind-power task force, charged with regulating and encouraging wind power in Maine (and, hopefully, staving off at least some of the conflict that plagues wind projects in other states — like the Cape Wind development in Nantucket Sound). Several cities and towns in the area, including Portland, South Portland, and Cape Elizabeth, are taking local steps toward reducing carbon dioxide emissions by using alternative fuels in government vehicles, or greening up government buildings. Local universities boast of their eco-friendly initiatives, and individuals are increasingly investing in renewable energy for their homes.

As we move into the heating season, it’s time to take stock of Maine’s renewable energy resources and projects, many of which will see developments this fall and winter. These energy sources may read like a cheer from Captain Planet — but their power potential is the real thing.

The Needham, Massachusetts-based corporation behind New England’s largest functioning wind farm — a 28-turbine, 42-megawatt operation in Mars Hill that cost $85 million to build and started spinning in March — just moved six employees into an office in Portland — its first full-time presence in Maine. It’s a move that indicates Maine’s growing enthusiasm for wind power, and developers’ growing interest in the state’s fertile wind resources.

Although Maine’s wind power generation potential is similar to California’s — in a list of the top 20 states, Maine and California are 19th and 17th, respectively — it lags far behind second-place California when it comes to installed wind-energy capacity (Maine ranks 23rd nationwide), according to the American Wind Energy Association.

But three big wind-energy projects are in the works, and starting this week, public hearings will help to decide their fate.

The first is a revamped version of Maine Mountain Power’s Black Nubble project in Franklin County. Originally, wind turbines would have been built on both Black Nubble and nearby Redington mountains; a compromise reached early this summer would protect the ecologically vulnerable Redington Pond Range, prohibiting wind development there while allowing for construction of 18 turbines on Black Nubble. The compromise was enough to win the support of one of the state’s biggest environmental organizations, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). On September 19 and 20, the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) will hear public comments about the 54-megawatt project at Sugarloaf Ski Resort. The project would cost about $110 million and would produce enough electricity to power 21,000 homes when running at maximum capacity.

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  Topics: News Features , U.S. Government, John Baldacci, Maine Public Utilities Commission,  More more >
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