Several good reasons exist to oppose the ongoing proliferation of giant windmills on Maine’s ridges and mountains. Recently, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (DIF&W) added yet another one in its recommendation that the Weaver Wind farm proposed by SunEdison in the towns of Eastbrook and Osborn be rejected. The department cited what it considers unacceptable risks to birds and bats migrating through the Hancock County region where one wind farm already is operating and another has been permitted but not yet constructed.
The Bull Hill Wind farm includes 19 turbines, each 476 feet tall, in Township 16. SunEdison’s Hancock Wind farm in Townships 16 and 22, already permitted, will add 18 more of the three-bladed monsters. Those two projects were enough to cause staff at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to voice concerns, in a June 15 analysis, about their cumulative effect on the bird and vulnerable bat populations in the area. The Weaver Wind farm would introduce 23 more turbines, each nearly 600 feet tall, into the mix. The DEP analysis made reference to DIF&W concerns “with the risks to migrating birds and bats” posed by the proposed Weaver Wind project. “Avian passage rate, which is an index to mortality risk, was the highest record for any project in northern New England and fatality estimates of birds at the nearby Bull Hill Wind Project also were the highest recorded in the region,” said the fish and wildlife department.
Some may regard the mortality risk to birds and bats posed by the windmill blades as inconsequential. Taken by itself, that risk may seem a small price to pay for wind farm development. But there are other compelling arguments against wind energy projects and the state policy that encourages them.
Much of the scenic beauty for which Maine is so widely known will be despoiled. The stated 2,700-Megawatt goal of Maine’s Wind Energy Act would require as many as 1,500 wind turbines, each hundreds of feet tall, with accompanying access roads and new transmission lines, on up to 300 miles of Maine’s hills and mountains. Those transmission lines, to carry the electricity that could be provided by a single, high-quality conventional generator, will add billions of dollars to New England electric bills.
Maine already is one of the cleanest states in the nation for CO2 emissions and the massive buildup of wind farms will not improve that, since almost 90 percent of our CO2 emissions are from sources other than electricity generation. The myth that wind will “get us off oil” is just that. Oil accounts for just two percent of Maine’s electricity generation.
But there is a major wind generation flaw — one that goes unaddressed by wind power advocates: it is both intermittent and unpredictable. It will not — indeed, it cannot — replace constant capacity generators that meet peak load and base load demands. A 2010 New England Wind Integration Study stated, “Wind’s intermittent nature would require increased reserves, ensuring that there are other generation options when the wind isn’t blowing.”
It’s unfortunate that such concerns fall largely on deaf ears in the small communities where wind farms are proposed. Former Governor John Baldacci and the Legislature did much to assure a warm welcome for such projects by requiring that developers provide thousands of dollars in ongoing community benefit funds for public purposes in such communities. Added sweeteners are the resulting temporary construction jobs, payments to property owners where the turbines are based and the very few permanent jobs that are created — all of which benefit a handful of local residents while undermining Maine’s quality of place and imposing unnecessary extra statewide costs on taxpayers and ratepayers.
Notwithstanding the rosy and patently false picture painted by wind farm developers and their supporters, the costs and impacts of hundreds of land-based industrial wind turbines vastly exceed the minimal benefits. And despite all the hype, it remains likely that wind never will be more than a marginal supplier of electricity.