Wind Power and the Bowers Project – Who’s Right?

Virginie Roveillo and Sean Mahoney

It’s constant, it’s overwhelming, and it’s likely never to go away. What is it?  It’s information overload. We live in an age where everyone has an opinion, everyone wants a voice in the debate, and everyone thinks they’re right. With the Internet at our fingertips and the media hounding us with article upon article, it’s hard to know where to stand on hot topics like renewable energy.

We’ve probably all experienced that moment – eating our eggs and toast in our favorite diner, enjoying our cup of joe, and reading the morning paper – when we come across a letter to the editor arguing that wind power will improve energy security, energy prices, and climate change. Confusion sets in. You’re unsettled, perhaps even bothered. Didn’t yesterday’s article lambast wind power for its inefficiency, its price tag and its destructive scenic impact? Who has the facts right and who has the facts wrong? If wind is supposed to bring energy prices down, why is the electric bill creeping up month after month? If wind integration makes the grid more stable, why do you keep hearing that wind will only cause more power plants to be built? And if wind is so great, why are parts of the West disassembling their wind farms and halting project development? Why, wind proponents, why?

These are the right questions to be asking, and we’re glad you’re asking them.  These very same questions are being asked of wind project developers here in New England, most recently by the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) in connection with First Wind’s proposed Bowers Wind Project, a 27 turbine wind power project to be located in the Downeast Lakes area of Maine. Opposition to the Bowers Project stems almost exclusively from the visual impacts the project might have on a portion of the local economy, guided fishing. In all other respects, the project is commendable – Bowers will make use of existing logging roads and transmission lines and anticipated environmental impacts from the project’s construction are expected to be minimal.

CLF supports this project and, anticipating the confusion under which LURC might be working, submitted testimony from two experts to dispel some of the myths that the wind debate has generated. Specifically, Dr. Cameron Wake testified on the impacts of climate change on Maine and New England’s natural resources and how wind power is one tool to be used in addressing that challenge; and Abigail Krich testified on the systemic benefits of integrating wind power into the electric market.

After peppering Ms. Krich with questions, the Commission walked away with two major takeaways from her testimony:

  • Wind power does result in cost-savings because it brings the costs of generating electricity down. Unfortunately, those savings are all but wiped out by the increasing cost of transmitting electricity.
  • Increasing the amount of wind power generated and used in New England will not require the construction of additional power plants to balance wind’s variability. The New England Wind Integration Study, performed by ISO-NE, concluded that even if 12,000 MW of wind power were integrated into the system, no new power plants would be needed to balance wind’s variability.

While CLF appreciates that the scenic impacts of these projects are, at the end of the day, a highly personal matter (or as my Latin teacher would say, “de gustibus non est disputandum” or “taste is not a matter of debate”), it’s important that objective facts not be obscured by subjective, and ultimately misleading, ones.

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