Governor Paul LePage ordered a temporary halt on all wind energy projects in Western and Coastal Maine last week, blocking permits for new wind turbines in the state. LePage sees turbines as a threat to Maine’s tourism industry, due to their size and appearance.
Energy adviser Steven McGrath said that the preexisting Mars Hill turbines in northern Maine will be exempted from the moratorium.
This move came shortly before Massachusetts kicked off new renewable power projects. Forty-six proposals were submitted with 14 including projects on Maine land and 11 involving wind turbines. LePage, as well as anti-wind turbine lobbyists, hoped that this move would be a bold statement against out-of-state projects moving into Maine. Northern Pass, a hydropower project, was selected as the winner on Thursday and Maine remains unaffected.
Clean energy project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine Dylan Voorhees told the Bangor Daily News that currently, Maine wind power is in direct competition with Canadian hydropower. Northern Pass brings hydropower from Canada into New Hampshire, potentially setting Maine back as a leader in clean energy.
Wind power in Maine has been growing rapidly over the past decade. According to a graph from the Portland Press Herald, wind power accounted for only 0.4 percent of Maine’s electricity production in the summer of 2007, and spiked to nearly 25 percent by summer 2017. In 2016, Maine wind turbines generated three-fifths of all utility-scale wind power in New England, according to data from the United States Energy Information Administration.
Environmental groups throughout the state are calling into question whether the governor can make this decision on his own.
“What kind of a message are we sending to the world here when the governor is able to decide without any statutory authority to wreck a billion-dollar industry?” Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, told the Portland Press Herald.
Payne sees this as an opportunity for new development and investment in Maine, and predicts court action from landowners against LePage.
“While out-of-state interests are eager to exploit our western mountains in order to serve their political agendas, we must act judiciously to protect our natural beauty,” LePage said in a prepared statement to the Press Herald. While wind projects are halted, a newly created Maine Wind Advisory Commission will discuss wind power’s impact on the state’s tourism industry as well as regulation for wind projects. These meetings will not be open to the public.