Gov. John Baldacci is heading to Spain, Germany and Norway this week on a wind power trade mission. The mission’s overall goal, according to The Associated Press, is to “cultivate business contacts and attract investors.” He’s joined by 23 representatives of Maine industries and organizations involved with wind energy.
Nothing wrong with that. Beyond all the trade shows and industry contacts, however, the governor would be wise to develop a keener understanding of how wind power interacts with its host communities, environment and local economies, all critical issues facing Maine.
The trials and travails of wind projects of recent, such as Record Hill in Roxbury, illustrate the real challenges this industry has in Maine. And, right now, it’s not economic — the right government incentives and investors exist today to bring almost any project to fruition.
Some $40 million in stimulus funds recently awarded to a wind project in Danforth is an example, as are the recurring appearances of wind companies before town selectmen in Western Maine.
Rather, the concerns are local, environmental and logistical. Also, with the Maine Medical Association passing a resolution regarding wind power at its annual meeting on Sept. 12, calling for independent studies on health effects from turbines, one could add medical concerns as well.
Other critics are raising questions about transmission capacity, and just what — if Maine’s lofty policy goals of generating wind energy are to be satisfied — will be required for transmission and turbine infrastructure to make this happen.
How have these countries dealt with these concerns? What did their policymakers do to assuage fears, tighten oversight, or improve service? What kind of transmission capacity was needed to accommodate their wind investments? Did the host communities benefit, or decline, because of having turbines in their midst? What was the effect on the environment, tourism, other industries, or the economy as a whole?
There is plenty of speculation about the answers to these questions in Maine. If Gov. Baldacci and the trade missionaries return from overseas with business contacts, great — this exposure could certainly help boost the economic potential that wind power represents here.
But, if the governor and others can return with a greater understanding of how wind power fits in Maine and its cultural and social landscape, and some ideas on how to improve a presently contentious relationship, the impact of this trip could be even greater.