The state's leading sustainable energy & conservation group has echoed Governor Paul LePage in voicing opposition to a possible statewide referendum. LePage denounced the measure in his January 7th radio address.
"This would be an environmental and economic disaster for Maine," said Chris O'Neil, President of Friends of Maine's Mountains (FMM), which is focused on protecting Maine's mountains and citizens from the impacts of grid-scale industrial wind turbine developments.
Among other shortcomings in the legislation, FMM sees its passage as a de facto mandate for an unsustainable buildup of wind turbines and costly transmission systems on Maine's mountains. O'Neil asserted that "markets would not support any wind power at all if not for a complicated brew of incentives, grants, mandates, tax breaks, surcharges, and other government created gimmicks. This is just one more gimmick, and it's a huge one."
O'Neil said, that renewable power sounds good to lay people, but lay people should not be deciding such technical and critical matters that are presented as simple and benign. "Requiring more renewable power will probably sound great to most people; but to throw additional unrealistic mandates on companies like Bangor Hydro and CMP will cost real dollars for everyone in Maine. And certainly, it will cause further harm to our wild areas with the construction of unnecessary infrastructure like 45 story wind turbines on our mountain ridges and hundreds of miles of new transmission lines cut through our forests," O'Neil said.
Maine has the highest RPS mandate in the nation, presently at 35%. Yet Maine law excludes some generators (like Canadian Hydro) and favors others (like wind) such that "for all intents and purposes 'new renewable' in Maine means wind," O'Neil said. The referendum would double the annual rate at which the RPS now escalates, and it will raise the ultimate percentage mandated from 40% to 50%.
"If Maine is an outlier now, this would put us off the charts." O'Neil said. "We will be urging voters to think about facts like these before they vote for this feel-good legislation."
Maine's electricity generation mix is already very clean. More than half of our generation comes from renewable biomass and hydro, while most of the other half comes from clean, modern natural gas generators. Some states get as much as three quarters of their electricity from coal plants. FMM is not a proponent of introducing coal to Maine's electricity generation mix, but the group insists that any new generation be sustainable, affordable, clean, and necessary. "Wind power has never proven that it meets any of these criteria," O'Neil said. "We have many layers of environmental regulation in place now. And, we in Maine have a strong environmental ethos. There is no need to handcuff markets and harm ratepayers by choosing winners, losers, and favorites."
"This referendum is driven by an unfortunate public belief that wind power can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, displace base load generators, and reduce our already high electricity costs, when in fact it can do none of these," O'Neil said. "The future of Maine's environment and economy deserves better than mandated policies which are based on a belief in presumed benefits, rather than proven data. We end up with high impact - low benefit infrastructure that we neither want nor need."
O'Neil said FMM sees red flags with other provisions in the legislation, like how it would take authority from elected officials and give policy making authority to unelected officials.