- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to scrap Maine’s wind-power production goals sparked a debate Wednesday between the Republican governor’s administration and renewable energy advocates who say doing so will threaten the industry’s future in the state.

The governor, who often criticizes wind power projects because of their high costs, wants to replace megawatt wind targets established in 2008 with goals to promote economic development and lower electricity costs through wind-power projects.

Re-writing the goals would send a message to developers that Maine residents must benefit from wind-power projects, supporters told the legislative Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

“We should alter our goals to expand our economy, provide employment and lower electricity costs, so that when a developer looks at our state’s wind resources, they are encouraged to build these turbines here, employ as many Mainers as possible and provide lower electricity rates to Mainers,” said Republican Rep. Lance Harvell, of Farmington, who introduced the measure on behalf of LePage’s administration.

But critics say the governor’s measure will merely increase costs and regulatory burdens on wind project developers by forcing them to show how their proposals would affect electricity prices - something they say would be nearly impossible to do.

“(The administration is) irrationally opposed to clean energy like wind, and this bill is one in a series of obstacles to make it more difficult to build wind power in the state,” Glen Brand, chapter director of the Sierra Club Maine told The Associated Press.

The law signed by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci in 2008 made it a goal of the state to have at least 2,000 megawatts of electricity produced through wind projects by 2015 and 3,000 megawatts by 2020, or enough to power about 900,000 homes. Maine currently only produces about 450 megawatts of power, but environmental groups estimate the state will reach 1,000 megawatts by next year as several proposed projects are currently in the pipeline.

Chris O’Neill, a spokesman for the anti-wind power group Friends of Maine Mountains told the committee the bill is the step in the right direction to review Maine’s wind-energy policies that he said aren’t benefiting the state or its residents.

“We don’t ever foresee a time, at least as things stand today, in which the benefits of wind power will exceed their impact,” he said.

But Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, said that removing the megawatt goals will create uncertainty in an industry that has already brought significant economic opportunity and benefits to the state. If the administration wants to bring more jobs and economic growth to Maine through wind power, it must stop criticizing the industry, he told the committee.

“They’re looking to be welcomed, not criticized,” he said. “Levying false claims against the industry is not a good idea.”

Patrick Woodcock, director of the governor’s Energy Office, said he’s willing to consider combining the goals laid out in their proposal with the current megawatt targets.


Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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