A mighty wind

By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 24, 2009

"People prize this area for its contiguous forest," says Kearns. "I respect that. This is a beautiful area. But the wind also blows. And using the wind is just like using any other of Maine's resources. We use the trees, we grow potatoes here, we harvest the fish."

False start?
Even once environmental and other concerns are allayed, a major stumbling block to full-on wind development remains. "This is a capital-intensive business," says Lamontagne. "It takes a lot to get started without seeing a penny." In case it's escaped your notice, the past year or so hasn't been the best time for anyone looking for lump sums of lucre.

All the same, says Gaynor, "We've had a pretty good run in the last three or four months." The company has secured a total of $567 million in financing so far this year — which obviously says something, in this economy, about investors' confidence in the wind industry's future.

Indeed, despite warnings that "the credit crunch would kneecap wind power this year, it's still a fast-growing sector," as the Wall Street Journal wrote last month, "[i]n the second quarter, the US installed 1210 megawatts of wind power, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Yes, that's a big drop from the 2860 megawatts installed in the first quarter. But it also means that through the first half of the year, the US is ahead of the wind-power pace it set in 2008 — an all-time record year."

The key now is to keep that momentum rolling. And the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (a/k/a the "stimulus package") signed by Obama back in February aims to do just that, offering a series of plans — an extension of the renewable-energy-production tax credit through 2012, grants from the Treasury Department, a loan-guarantee program for renewables — meant to buttress green-power industry and entice private investment.

"The recovery-act funding is absolutely essential," says Gaynor. "It's very important to stimulate the providers of capital so these renewable energy projects can get built. I think the administration has done a great job of making renewable energy part of their agenda, recognizing the reality of the financial markets today, and doing something about trying to fix it."

His only quibble? Speed it up, please. "We have a lot of pent-up demand, and I'm sure other companies do as well."

In other words (to borrow from Bob Dylan) when it comes to New England's energy future, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Mike Miliard can be reached at mmiliard@phx.com.

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