Maine set ambitious goals for wind power 15 years ago. Why has it come up short?

Update: The BDN is now carrying this article. I'm not sure when it went up. Looks like some of the usual "Cats Kill Birds" wind industry shills are infesting the comments. But also there seems to be considerable common sense brewing. People are likely figuring out that so much of what we have been told (and not just about wind) is not true and it's usually the exact opposite that's what's true.

How one sided is this article?

Maine set ambitious goals for wind power 15 years ago. Why has it come up short?

Maine Public | By Robbie Feinberg
Published April 13, 2022 at 7:00 AM EDT

Stacey Fitts navigates his old truck up a winding path of gravel and ice until he reaches an exposed ridge. He parks near a giant white wind turbine, whirring in the breeze.

"And it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger the closer you get," Fitts says as he gazes at the turbine from his driver's seat. "I just think they're pretty. To me, it's kind of like a dance. You know, this is a ballet up here on the hill. And I don't see it as an eyesore."

This story is part of our series "Climate Driven: A deep dive into Maine's response, one county at a ...."

Deep Dive Climate Driven

In one direction sits a wide, open vista of hills and mountains. Look another way, and you can see a long line of turbines stretching out for miles.

Fitts, a senior director with project operator Onward Energy, says people now flock to the wind farm in Bingham, about 30 miles north of Skowhegan in Somerset County, to see these views. He says the region has become so popular with local snowmobilers and ATVers that traffic jams can form on clear days.

"You know, somewhere, 100 ATVs coming in, one right after another, and having to wait for one another on the roads. It's pretty impressive," he says.

The power generated at the Bingham Wind Farm is impressive, too. With 56 turbines and 186 megawatts of power, it's the largest wind farm in the state.

Nearly 15 years ago, Maine set big goals for this industry: 3,000 megawatts of wind power by 2020 — but the state has come up far short of those goals so far.

"They were aggressive goals. I think they were designed to send a very clear message that we were open for wind development, and we're planning to do our part, regionally," said Phil Bartlett, the chair of the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

In 2007, Bartlett was a legislator and member of a task force charged by then-Gov. John Baldacci with shaping the future of the nascent industry, while still protecting the state's natural resources. The task force helped to set the state's ambitious wind goals, which would later become legislation. And among its recommendations, the group proposed defining certain areas as "expedited" permitting sites to help steer where wind development should — and shouldn't — be focused. It also created new regulations, and required projects to provide tangible benefits to communities.

"Coming off of that, I know, we got a lot of interest and attention from around the country, around the world. There was really an effort to make Maine an attractive place to invest," Bartlett said.

Yet nearly 15 years later, the total wind capacity in Maine is about 1,000 megawatts — significant, but only about a third of the state's original goal. So why did the wind industry come up short?

"I think it's a combination of three factors. The primary one is lack of site suitability," said Kurt Adams, the CEO of Summit Utilities, and a former PUC chair and wind power executive.

Adams said wind energy can only work in particular locations: areas with lots of consistent breezes, while not having a big impact on the local environment and community.

Plus, he said, wind farms need transmission lines with sufficient capacity, and that has been a challenge in a region with a limited grid.

"At the end of the day, there are only so many places where you have good wind, good transmission, small other environmental effects, and a community that wants the development," Adams said.

The other unexpected change from 15 years ago, experts said, is that more developers have moved toward solar power. They say the technology has become far cheaper in recent years, and there can be more flexibility around where they can be located.

Jeremy Payne, with the Maine Renewable Energy Association, said politics have also played a role: in particular, former Gov. Paul LePage's 2018 moratorium banning wind permits in parts of the state. Payne said that while the moratorium faced legal challenges and was ultimately reversed by Gov. Janet Mills, it sent a damaging message to developers that made many question whether to invest here.

"I can't tell you how many phone calls — one of the first questions I got for about two years after that, was about that executive order. 'What does this mean? Should we expect more of this?'" Payne said.

Payne said despite that speed bump, he's optimistic about the industry's future. And while much of the focus of wind energy policy has turned to offshore projects, Payne is also encouraged by legislation that passed last year to create a process for a large transmission line connecting the New England energy grid to Aroostook County, which he says could unlock the potential for a huge amount of wind power from northern Maine.

"So I think it's pretty encouraging," Payne said. "Obviously, we'll have to wait and see how things shake out, what the price looks like, what the benefits look like. But it's the most action that we've seen in that regard, certainly, in my time being involved in these issues."

Despite falling well short of those early projections, the wind industry still points to about $2 billion that it says it has invested in the state, plus tax payments that continue to be distributed to local communities.

Tony Barrett, with the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, said his group has been able to work with developers to mitigate the appearance of the turbines along the landscape. But he'd still like the state to add even more stringent regulations, such as a more expansive analysis of the visual impacts of wind projects.

"We're a little concerned of the Appalachian Trail dying death by 1,000 cuts. Every year, new proposals for roads or transmission lines or projects," Barrett said. "We would just want to make sure that — development's going to happen. But we want to work with developers to make sure it's sited properly."

It's still an open question just how much wind development will be seen in Maine in the near future — a question shaped by infrastructure, technology, and by the political landscape that emerges in the years ahead.


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Comment by Monique Aniel Thurston on April 13, 2022 at 3:59pm

A bit of history is in demand here , for Stacey, Jeremy and Kurt and the new Maine media .

I will never forget that day of October 2009 when, with a handful of Maine citizens. I  stood in opposition to the opening of the Kibby wind farm. Baldacci was driven in a tainted window limousine, Channel 13 ignoring our signs . Some of the workers giving us the finger from the safety of their trucks with a demeaning laugh. We were prevented to walk to the site and forced to stay at the entrance of the dirt road leading to the project . I tasted hell that day as I has never tasted before in America. Soon we would start to organize, each of us giving the best we had to fight that scourge called wind power on mountains ridges, it was a painful battle and we all got a taste of the new world order.


From the section " Past Present and Future "  ( see menu )


In October 2009, a handful of citizens from Kingfield, the River Valley, and Vienna came to protest the opening ceremony of the Kibby wind project. As we stood in the cold wind waving our opposition signs, Governor Baldacci, a man who envisioned his legacy as the governor who made Maine a "leader in wind power", was driven by in a limousine with tinted glass. We were not allowed to reach the project site but were told to stay at the edge of the road, kept at bay by a security guard who photographed us and took note of our license plate numbers.

At the end of the reception the media drove by and while we waved our signs harder, hoping for some coverage, the TV crews ignored us. In this Orwellian moment, where a group of concerned citizens was treated as though it did not exist, it became acutely clear that something was very wrong. We knew that citizens had been treated with the same disdain in January at Stetson Mountain, that noise problems with the state’s first turbines in Mars Hill and Freedom were plaguing people, and that many towns were in the cross hairs of the wind developers.


The Beginning

This was a wakeup call. Recognizing the strength from unity that would result from a coordination of the state’s geographically dispersed and relatively new wind opposition groups, we discussed the idea of forming a statewide coalition. While each group was small, by coming together we would hopefully achieve the critical mass to defend ourselves from what was clearly a very well organized and long planned assault.

Relying on our rapidly growing contact lists to expand the discussion, word was spread and we reserved a room at the Augusta Civic Center on Sunday, November 1, 2009. Thirty seven people showed up, all desperate because a nightmare they would have never anticipated was showing up in their communities. That day we created the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power, an informal coalition of industrial wind power opponents from all areas of the state. We decided to begin our effort by working on three fronts: LEGISLATIVE (change the law), LEGAL (challenge the permitting process) AND EDUCATION (to counter the propaganda spread by Big Wind).


The Last Two Years

In the ensuing two years of grueling individual and collective effort, we have advanced the conversation across all aspects of wind power – amongst ourselves, in the media, at the regulatory agencies, in the law courts and in Augusta. Turbine noise and its accompanying adverse health effects, dismissed by the industry and the Maine Center for Disease Control as a mere occasional annoyance, became the focal point of several permit appeals at the BEP and the Law Court.   Finally, in response to a Citizen Petition organized by the Task Force, the BEP agreed to change the nighttime noise regulations from 45 decibels to 42 decibels.  Their decision must receive legislative approval in the upcoming session to become law.  3 decibels might not sound like much, but the importance of the change cannot be overstated.  The state’s noise regulations will contain a new special section on turbine noise, and the framework for adjusting the limits as more projects are built will be in place.

On the legislative front, twelve bills were presented in the last session to change the dictatorial climate in which industrial wind is imposed on Maine residents. The bills dealt with scenic considerations, wildlife, property values, setbacks, health effects of noise, transmission and the economics of energy. Hundreds of hours of citizen testimony became part of the public record. The result of this effort became a single bill, LD 1366, also known as the “Fitts Amendment” after Stacy Fitts, co-chair of the Utility, Energy and Technology Committee which heard all of our bills.  Representative Fitts, an unabashed wind industry supporter,  forced through his amendment in the final hours of committee deliberations.   (More on this below). 

We must recognize the crucial contribution of Friends of Maine’s Mountains, Inc. without whose generous support neither the Citizen’s Petition nor the Legislative agenda would have been possible.

Finally, many members of the Citizen Task Force on Wind Power, being dedicated and talented writers, have flooded the major newspapers with opinion pieces and letters to the editor for the past two years, and the wind industry has changed its message, like a chameleon, in response to our criticism.  

Our collective knowledge base has significantly expanded and we have grown in size and strength. We have begun to raise all-important public awareness of the truth about wind power. We have begun to make a difference and have set in motion future victories.


External Events May Augur Well

During these two years external events have transpired that affect our Maine wind battle. For one, the public is increasingly aware that our national debt is unsustainable which has put many government programs under the magnifying glass, including the subsidies given to wind developers. Federal stimulus funding resulting from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, significant amounts of which buoyed “green” endeavors has been largely spent and is not likely to be replenished. Possible misconduct and failure by companies such as Solyndra have begun to capture national attention and caused greater scrutiny of government programs.

Also in these two years, tremendous new sources of domestic natural gas and oil have been discovered, making wind power even less competitive and weakening the wind industry’s scare tactics about our dangerous dependence on foreign energy. More locally, companies in Quebec and the Maritimes have developed an abundance of hydro-electric power and Maine’s juxtaposition with these provinces may allow access to lower cost electricity.

 Rising Awareness

The media in Maine have begun to embrace some of the facts we have brought and fallacies we have demonstrated, albeit slowly. A stark contrast can be observed between the reporting of two years ago and that of today. Last year a watershed expose of the expedited wind law appeared  as a three part series (see right hand column on our home page) in major newspapers, authored by the neutral and highly credentialed Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. This was not a story conceived in a conference room at a Boston public relations company. The wind industry was likely stunned.  In summary, it is a very different environment today than it was two years ago and we now occupy a far greater position as a result of both our efforts and potentially helpful external factors.



Immediate Goals of the Citizens' Task Force on Wind Power

  •  Push for legislative approval of the Board of Environmental Protection’s recommendation to reduce nighttime turbine noise limits from 45 decibels to 42 decibels at protected locations. This will require active citizen participation by writing and calling members of the Joint Environment and Natural Resources Committee to encourage them to approve the BEP’s recommendation, which followed several days of hearings, testimony from turbine noise sufferers, expert witnesses, and input from DEP staff. 
    After the bill gets an affirmative vote in committee we will need to educate the rest of the legislature with a letter writing and calling campaign. The wind industry will be trying to block this bill every step of the way.
  • Challenge the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security to report accurately on the list of items it is charged with in “the Fitts Amendment”. This also will require citizens to become familiar with the language of the Amendment and submit comments. The wind industry and its supporters will be asked to participate in this report, and may advocate for state control of siting, noise, and other "anti-home rule" measures. Only by an overwhelming show of support for a more conservative and protective wind law can we hope to change the rules of the game in our favor.

Through our collective efforts we can slow down and eventually stop the wind industry’s invasion of our state. As a member of the CTFWP you are part of a dedicated group who places a high value on Maine’s “Quality of Place” and feels a duty to protect her scenic resources for the benefit of present and future generations. 

Monique Aniel Thurston ,Steve Thurston . 

Comment by Brad Blake on April 13, 2022 at 2:48pm
"I think it's a combination of three factors. The primary one is lack of site suitability," said Kurt Adams, the CEO of Summit Utilities, and a former PUC chair and wind power executive.
Ya think?!!! The NREL map for Maine was accurate. We tried to make that point from the beginning. The result is a fleet of wind turbines which have a true net capacity factor of barely 20% of nameplate capacity.
At least Adams is refreshingly honest for once!
Comment by Brad Blake on April 13, 2022 at 2:47pm
The left leaning media in Maine (with the notable exception of the Ellsworth American) have been complicit with the wind industry ever since the passage of the "Wind Energy Act" giveaway to the undeserving industry in 2007. No more so than Maine Public Broadcasting which took in plenty of wind industry bribes, so no surprise here we have a typically biased report.
Not a single one of the hearty group of opponents such as myself were contacted for input, though WE are the ones, through perseverence worthy of David vs Goliath, battling incredible odds, and with much sacrifice in our lives, who slowed down and mitigated as much as possible the horrendous impact that fully meeting the goals of PL 661 would have inflicted on our beloved state.
Comment by Penny Gray on April 13, 2022 at 1:51pm

Time for some Pepto Bismol.


Maine as Third World Country:

CMP Transmission Rate Skyrockets 19.6% Due to Wind Power


Click here to read how the Maine ratepayer has been sold down the river by the Angus King cabal.

Maine Center For Public Interest Reporting – Three Part Series: A CRITICAL LOOK AT MAINE’S WIND ACT


(excerpts) From Part 1 – On Maine’s Wind Law “Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine if the law’s goals were met." . – Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, August 2010 Part 2 – On Wind and Oil Yet using wind energy doesn’t lower dependence on imported foreign oil. That’s because the majority of imported oil in Maine is used for heating and transportation. And switching our dependence from foreign oil to Maine-produced electricity isn’t likely to happen very soon, says Bartlett. “Right now, people can’t switch to electric cars and heating – if they did, we’d be in trouble.” So was one of the fundamental premises of the task force false, or at least misleading?" Part 3 – On Wind-Required New Transmission Lines Finally, the building of enormous, high-voltage transmission lines that the regional electricity system operator says are required to move substantial amounts of wind power to markets south of Maine was never even discussed by the task force – an omission that Mills said will come to haunt the state.“If you try to put 2,500 or 3,000 megawatts in northern or eastern Maine – oh, my god, try to build the transmission!” said Mills. “It’s not just the towers, it’s the lines – that’s when I begin to think that the goal is a little farfetched.”

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Hannah Pingree on the Maine expedited wind law

Hannah Pingree - Director of Maine's Office of Innovation and the Future

"Once the committee passed the wind energy bill on to the full House and Senate, lawmakers there didn’t even debate it. They passed it unanimously and with no discussion. House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven, says legislators probably didn’t know how many turbines would be constructed in Maine."

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