Testimony Before LURC on June 26, 2011 in Lincoln, ME Regarding a Proposed Wind Power Complex in Bowers Mountain/Kossuth Township
Photo below is the view of Rollins Mt. from Dennis Mahar's home on Long Pond in Lincoln:
My name is Dennis Mahar and I am a seasonal resident of Lincoln, Maine where I own a camp on Long Pond. In the winter months I live in Gainesville, Florida where I teach economics at the University of Florida. I am also a Senior Fellow at the Public Utility Research Center at the same university. Though I currently work in an institution of higher learning, I am definitely not an “ivory tower” academic with little practical experience in the real world. In fact, before moving to Florida, I lived in Washington, DC for 25 years and worked for the World Bank, by far the world’s largest development finance institution. While at the World Bank I served, among other things, as the Chief of the Environmental Analysis Division for the Western Hemisphere as well as the Chief of Training in the area of natural resources and the environment, worldwide.
Over the years I have helped design, supervise and evaluate well over 100 development projects in many sectors and in many parts of the world. The total investment represented by these projects was in the range of 4-5 billion dollars. Based on my many years of work experience, I have a strong gut feeling that the siting of industrial wind power projects along the spine of central and northern Maine does not seem be such a good idea. Regarding the First Wind project recently installed in the Lincoln area, my personal observations lead me to believe that the developer has consistently understated the project’s costs and greatly overstated its benefits. (I should point out, however, that such a distortion of the facts is not uncommon when firms are seeking financial and political support for their proposed investments).
Speaking as a landowner in Lincoln, I feel that the Rollins Mountain wind power project has come with high costs to me personally with few benefits that I can see. For example, I have (or used to have) an exceedingly beautiful view from the dock located in front of my cabin. Indeed, the town of Lincoln website still uses a pre-2011 photo taken from my property to illustrate why people should come to enjoy our (formerly) magnificent 13 lakes and to spend their tourist dollars. When I arrived at my camp earlier this month I was shocked and dismayed to discover that eleven giant, unsightly wind turbines erected on a nearby ridge had completely spoiled the view from my dock. This major degradation of the natural environment has greatly reduced the feeling of contentment and well-being that I have always felt in the Maine woods. Moreover, my training in economics tells me that this marked deterioration of the viewscape has substantially reduced the market value of my property. First Wind continues to allege that the visual presence of wind turbines does not lower property values, but no one really believes that, do they?
Last winter term, I had wanted to explore the economics of wind power development in Maine with my students at the University of Florida. In order to gather some background material I sent a cordial letter (on U of F letterhead) to First Wind offices in Boston requesting general information on the methodology they used to calculate project costs and benefits. (I did not ask for any proprietary or confidential data). Not only did First Wind not answer my letter but they did not even acknowledge receiving it. This was a rude and un-businesslike thing for them to do, but it started me to thinking that maybe First Wind had something to hide. In my view, it is high time to shed a very bright light on the subject of wind power development so that residents of Maine, both permanent and seasonal, can know its true costs and benefits. This knowledge would allow Maine policymakers to make fact-based decisions on the future of wind development in the state rather than basing their decisions on the distorted non-fact based claims of the developers.
To conclude, I would like to make what I consider to be a reasonable and practical recommendation. It is this: LURC should immediately commission a comprehensive study of the actual (as opposed to the projected) costs and benefits of the Lincoln area wind power project. Ideally such a study should be carried out by an independent team, perhaps drawn from the faculty of the University of Maine system. In my view it is unwise, and even reckless, for LURC to continue to approve large, new wind power projects in the state before we know the actual results of similar projects already approved and under implementation. Carrying out independent technical evaluations of existing projects before moving on to new ones is internationally accepted good practice, endorsed by just about every major government or non-government organization that I am acquainted with. This should also become a routine practice in Maine. We must learn from our mistakes so as not to repeat them. The only things that we should replicate are our successes. Has wind power development in the rural areas of central and northern Maine been a success? We really don’t know yet. It is imperative that we find out soon before any more damage is done.
I would like to thank the Commissioners for giving me the opportunity to speak and express my views. If you should find my recommendation to be acceptable, I would be happy to offer my services as an unpaid advisor to the proposed study team.
Dennis J. Mahar, Ph.D.
Another view of the Rollins Wind Project from Dennis Mahar's home on Long Pond in Lincoln