Blowhards – Is Wind Power Worth It?

Wind power has received a lot of press over the past year. With the inauguration of Obama the issue wont be disappearing anytime soon. Two local weeklies here in Maine offered views on the subject. The Maine Democrat came out in favor of Efficiency Maine’s wind power incentives. Al Diamon, writer of “Politics and Other Mistakes” in The Phoenix, dumped all over the idea of an expansion of wind turbines in Maine.

In The Maine Democrat, Sharon M. Reidhus, of the Public Utilities Commission, states “Wind is an abundant and free resource [in Maine], and Mainers increasingly recognize it as a viable component of the states energy future.” To promote that goal PUC will offer $2,000 for residential and $4,000 for nonresidential wind systems. Those single turbines can cost $6,000 to $22,000 to be installed. That’s no small investment. Considering it can save up to 90% of your electrical bill, it can be worth the initial cost. On a large scale you can really begin to see the savings. With the recent problems with Russia and China’s growing oil consumption renewable energy sources like wind power will become a necessity. Are the current wind power options that have been offered in Maine the answer? If you believe Mr. Diamon, no. And I do.

Mainers have had two major problems with wind power farms. Diamon highlights one of them in his column. Who is really seeing the savings from these massive projects? Endless Energy Corp. wishes to build a 30-tower wind farm in Carrabassett Valley on Redington and Black Nubble mountains. The Maine Land Use Regulation Commission has already turned down Endless Energy’s proposal twice. Both the Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust and the Maine Appalachian Trail Club supported this decision. Endless Energy has attempted to convince the Carrabassett Valley board of selectmen to annex the 10,000 acres of unorganized land for the project. This would forgo the need for the MLURC’s approval on the project – Sneaky.

The local power cost reduction is the big draw of Endless Energy’s plan. They claim Mainers will have first dibs on buying the power produced by their wind farm. The wind farm will produce enough energy to power 40,000 homes. That all sounds great on paper. How could you pass that up? Well the truth is residents will only see about a reduction of about a third in their electric bills and that wont even be seen anytime soon. Sugarloaf, a local ski resort, will save up to $40,000,000 in the next few years from the wind farm. Residents must buy into the plan up front, spending $5,000 to opt in. On that basis it would take at least twelve years for locals to break even.

The other downside, only briefly mentioned by Diamon, is the size of the wind farms. 10,000 acres for 30 turbines is no small chunk of land. We know what an eyesore high tension power lines can be. Wind farms would present a similar blemish. The bigger issue is the health effects of living near turbines. Turbines can cause chronic headaches leading to nausea and vertigo. This can even be followed by chronic insomnia, which we know can lead to depression, hypertension, and other damaging conditions. The low frequency sound emitted by the turbines is what can cause these problems. Residents near the Mars Hill wind farm in Maine have already complained about the noise caused.

Wind power seems like an attractive alternative. Knowing the problems associated with wind farms we must not jump into anything. Mainers need a plan that will work for us. Every Mainer should benefit, not just ski areas with already high profits. Placement of these facilities must also be managed properly. The health risks are not yet fully known. Move the wind farms offshore into the Gulf of Maine. One company is already planning this with the backing of Governor Baldacci. Maine can be a leader in smart responsible energy growth if our leaders are not swayed by snake oil salesmen.

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