Windpower in Maine: High Impacts, Low Benefits

The information below is reprinted (with modifications) with great thanks from Friends of Maine's Mountains.

In 2008, reacting to a worldwide spike in oil prices, the Maine Legislature rezoned most of the state to build out wind power. Why?

  • To reduce Maine's dependence on foreign oil
  • To protect Maine's quality of place
  • To benefit Maine's economy

All worthy goals, but wind does not achieve them.

Maine has a proud history of environmental stewardship. From the returnable bottle bill to billboard laws, clear air and water, concern over rising CO2 and greenhouse gas levels, Maine leads. It is among the cleanest electric generators in the United States, with half of its capacity coming from renewables, and under 5% from oil and coal.

Grid-scale wind cannot show that it reduces emissions. It is sprawling, expensive, and redundant. Its environmental and economic impacts outweigh its benefits.

Environmental Impacts

Impacts on Human Health: Amplitude modulation (repetitive change in loudness) and low-frequency turbine aerodynamics cause the unique and harmful infrasound emitted by wind turbines. Rotating turbines in sunlight create unavoidable on-off shadow flicker that can penetrate closed eyelids. All this can combine to make a home uninhabitable.
Symptoms include:

  • Sleep deprivation, hypertension
  • Headaches, ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Dizziness, unsteadiness, nausea
  • Exhaustion, mood disorders
  • Concentration problems

For published experts on wind turbine health effects, see:

Impacts on Natural Resources: Erecting 1,500 turbines in rural Maine would contribute less than 5% additional electricity to the grid, sometimes displacing other renewables while destroying 300+ miles of mountain ridges. If more electricity is ever needed, vast supplies already exist immediately to the north.

Full wind build-out in Maine would require thousands of clearcut acres, alpine excavation, and road building. Maine's priceless wildlife habitats and watersheds would be irreparably altered. Birds and bats would be killed or affected by the wind turbines. Significant carbon sequestration would be lost in trees removed, offsetting presumed gains.

CO2 emissions are unlikely to fall and can even increase when base load plants, frequently fossil fuel-powered, operate inefficiently to back up wind power. Assuming optimum generation capacity, 1,500 turbines in Maine would only reduce CO2 emissions in the US by less than 4/100ths of one percent.

Maine Wind Capacity

Wind developers call Maine "the Saudi Arabia of Wind". However, Maine ranks nationally in the bottom third for on-shore wind resource quality. This produces "capacity factors" below 30%, the level considered break-even by the industry.

Areas in the Midwest and Great Plains regions are better suited for wind power because of their high wind resource quality and their flat, accessible topography. Maine's rugged, remote mountains, far from end users, present significant logistical disadvantages for grid-scale wind, from construction to generation to transmission.

Economic Impacts

  • Maine electric rates and tax rate are already among the highest in the United States.
  • Increased electric rates impact Maine jobs and related State tax revenues. Electricity costs are consistently among the most important factors in attracting and retaining business.
  • Wind power will be a major driver for New England's $20 billion transmission line expansion. Maine's consumers will absorb more than $1 billion in their electric rates for transmission alone.
  • Up to 60% of the cost of wind projects is paid by taxpayer subsidy. Government subsidies per megawatt hour: gas & oil: $0.25, hydroelectric: $0.67, geothermal: $0.92, nuclear: $1.59, wind: $23.37.
  • If subsidies aren't sustained, the high cost of electricity from wind will be borne directly by ratepayers in those states embracing wind power.
  • Wind threatens jobs in Maine's $10 billion tourism industry, which employs 170,000 people and puts more than $500 million in taxes into state coffers.
  • Studies are showing that property values, and resulting tax revenues, will fall, hurting both property owners and the State.
  • Maine has 4,400 megawatts of electric generating capacity, yet seldom uses even 2,000 MW. Overbuilding will simply increase electric rates.
  • Maine's "wind goal", 1,500 turbines on 300+ miles of mountain ridges, will cost $7 billion, mostly for foreign imports. One average-sized conventional generating plant, at 85% less expense, would effectively provide the same amount of electricity.
  • Wind power's renewable energy credits (RECs) will increase Maine's electric bills while allowing out-of-state coal plants to continue burning and emitting pollutants.

For citations, see:

Maine's Quality of Place

In wildness is the preservation of the world,"
-Henry David Thoreau on Maine

What will happen to Maine's "Quality of Place" if thousands of wind turbines are erected throughout its wild places?

The 2006 Brookings Institution report, Charting Maine's Future, stressed ""Maine possesses a globally known brand" that is our "ace in the hole... true calling card..." and our "truest source of prosperity."

The report named it "Quality of Place,", warning against "undermining the state's alluring brad, so important to its current and future economy." Crucial to this brand is "the integrity of Maine's distractive towns and villages and the stunning natural areas that lie between them."

Quality of place is "a major, appreciating asset in an age when retaining and attracting works and retirees matters intensely... a critical asset for future competitiveness" to "differentiate Maine from other places and in many respects drive its economy."