Ill wind

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  February 27, 2008

Most of Maine is too butt-ugly to preserve.

That’s not my opinion. That’s the official position of the Governor’s Task Force on Tourists Who Accidentally Wander Into Downtown Skowhegan. You can understand how such a high-level assemblage might have arrived at that conclusion. The kind of people who get appointed to a gubernatorial task force tend not to be the sort of folks who are overly inclined to locate a town’s best honky-tonks. Once they discover there’s no opera house or abstract-expressionist artist support group, they don’t engage in much further exploration of a municipality’s cultural attractions.

As a result, it would be easy to dismiss these findings as the work of a bunch of Portland-centric snobs whose only exposure to “The Other Maine” has been a ski weekend in Bethel and a report on the potato harvest they heard on Maine Public Radio. Oh, and a summer trip that took them through Calais.

The one in France.

But before we commit the end product of all blue-ribbon commissions to the environmentally restoring effects of the septic system, we should at least consider the conclusions of the latest such panel: The Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development, which produced a report called “Finding Common Ground For a Common Purpose.”

Based on a quick reading of this document, I assume that’s “Common” in the sense of “run-of-the-mill, plebian, provincial, low-bred, and insignificant.”

The report concluded — and here I’m paraphrasing just a little — that most of Maine is too butt-ugly to preserve. Now, where have I heard that before?

Since that’s the case, the document designated much of the state as “Expedited Review Areas,” which means “areas within the state that appear to be most appropriate for wind power development.” These areas include “all organized towns and a portion of the Land Use Regulation Commission’s (LURC) jurisdiction." That’s a majority of the state, excepting only a few state parks, the views from the verandas of task-force members’ vacation homes, and two honky-tonks in Skowhegan. These places were exempted because, “There may be a limit to how much wind power development the people of Maine will accept.”

Particularly those people of Maine who, like me, may be forced to accept huge turbines in their backyards.

Still, that’s a pretty generous concession, considering the report’s central claim: “Wind power is broadly recognized to be the most significant, economically viable, utility-scale, renewable source of electricity currently available.”

It would be difficult to argue with that statement — if that statement meant a damned thing. Let’s examine each aspect of it a little more closely.

Lots of swell ideas have, at one time or another, been “broadly recognized.” The Earth being flat. Lead paint on kids’ toys. Chuck Norris’s political endorsements. ’Nuff said.

“Most significant”? More significant than cold fusion, I suppose, but nowhere near as significant as a decent air-tight wood stove.

As for “economically viable,” wind power is the poster child for government handouts. Without massive federal tax breaks and energy subsidies, nobody would ever consider building these things. And the task force report notes that Maine ought to further underwrite the construction and operation of such facilities with tax-increment financing (the developers don’t have to pay all their property taxes) and Pine Tree Zones (the developers don’t have to pay all their other taxes). Keep in mind that when some special interest isn’t paying all the taxes it would normally owe, everybody else is paying more

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