by Jon Hinck, NRCM toxics project director
Thank you for the opportunity to present comments in favor of LD 1379 on behalf of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (Council). I am Jon Hinck and work on wind siting and policy issues for the Council. I live in Portland. The Council is a public interest, nonprofit organization that seeks to protect and conserve Maine’s environment for now and future generations. As part of the Council’s work, we advocate for clean air and energy measures, including those that reduce air and global warming pollution.
Adoption of LD 1379 would help to jumpstart the development of new appropriately-sited wind projects in Maine between now and 2010. This would be accomplished by providing moderate generation goals for the State to meet, adequate funding (if needed), flexibility in meeting portfolio requirements through renewable energy credits, and an opportunity for streamlined permitting for certain projects.
LD 1379 would utilize a portion of the annual systems benefit funding that is currently being collected to support Efficiency Maine programming. In light of the two renewable portfolio bills also being considered (LDs 1045 and 1434), the Council believes that both tools can be used effectively in Maine as part of a strategy to support existing renewable energy and to assist the development of new renewable generation.
With suggested amendments (on pages 3-4), we support LD 1379 because:
1. Adoption of this bill will promote new wind generation projects which will have the effect of reducing pollution and attendant harm to public health and Maine’s natural environment.
From the Council’s perspective, it is critical to evaluate wind power projects within the larger context of our existing system of energy generation. Most of the electricity used in Maine does not originate from hydro, biomass or other renewable forms of electricity. Rather, we get our electricity from the New England “power pool” that is primarily fueled by coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear sources. These sources create smog that harms our health, acid rain that damages our forests, nuclear waste that remains hazardous for thousands of years, and global warming that is a far-reaching threat to the very climate and geological systems on which our quality of life, the natural systems, and economy hinge.
Mainers’ electricity use has real impacts on public health and the environment that should not be underestimated. For example, the Brayton Point Power Plant located in Somerset, Massachusetts is one of the largest generators to feed into the New England mix. It burns 8,000 tons of coal every day and provides electricity to Maine, and the rest of the New England grid. The Harvard School of Public Health has estimated that this one plant is responsible for 100 premature deaths, 30,000 asthma attacks, and 1,100 emergency room visits each year. It also estimates that those living within 30 miles of the plant face a per-capita mortality risk that is nearly three times greater than those living further out.
Another example is the Salem Harbor coal-fired Power Plant located in Salem, Massachusetts. It receives most of its coal from Colombia and Venezuela, including from one of the largest open pit mines in the world — a mine that has bulldozed entire villages that were in the way of its operations. Fossil-fuel power comes at tremendous costs to the communities that mine and develop it, the communities where it is ultimately burned, and the communities downwind – such as in Maine – whose air is polluted by it.
2. Adoption of this bill will increase jobs and economic development in Maine.
Renewable power generation within the State can increase local jobs and economic development.
Wind is the fastest growing renewable energy source in the world, and Maine could have a piece of the action. For example, the Mars Hill Wind Project is expected to create hundreds of jobs, and millions in local property taxes, State income taxes and sales taxes. In its construction phase alone, a project of this size would create a benefit of over $66 million to the Northern Maine economy, and over $1 million to the State coffers in income and sales tax revenues. In addition, it would yield nearly $5 million in annual sales benefit to the economy, and nearly $140,000 per year in income and sales tax revenues to the State.
This bill presents a ready opportunity for economic development, especially in rural and northern parts of Maine. Adopting incentives for new wind projects would balance subsidies that have long been given to the current major sources of electricity. In the absence of government support, our citizens will likely lose out on significant potential economic benefits. Given these economic times in Maine, this State should ensure that opportunities like those proposed in this bill are adopted, maximized and made successful.
Wind power can also provide important economic benefits to the local economy. The Mars Hill Wind Farm, for example, will provide significant revenues to the landowners who would lease property for the turbines and the town of Mars Hill. Based on estimated annual payments of $3,000 per turbine per year, the 33 turbines will result in payments to local landowners of approximately $100,000 per year for the course of the lease. According to the developer, the project is projected to generate $150,000 in tax revenue annually to the town for the 20-year lease period ($3,000,000). Post-construction employment is expected to employ be 3-5 permanent full-time positions ($35-50,000/year salaries) and 4-6 part-time positions. Other communities – in addition to Mars Hill — could experience similar benefits as additional wind power projects are pursued in Maine. The experiences of Pennsylvania and western New York State, where many wind power projects have become operational, show that wind power can generate valued jobs and economic development in rural communities.
The following are our comments on the specific provisions in LD 1379:
1. Funding: We believe that “up to $2,000,000” is too much to take from annual funds seriously needed for conservation projects through the Efficiency Maine Program. We recommend allocating an annual amount in the range of $750,000 to $1,200,000. Allocating these funds for “up to 10 years” is reasonable and necessary in order to accomplish the goals of the bill and is consistent with the needs of developers and financiers to demonstrate long-term assurances and commitments. This will be especially useful for small-scale community wind-size projects.
2. Pine Tree Zone eligibility: We are neither for nor against the application of this incentive in this instance, but its inclusion here reminds us of ongoing concerns about the trend of expanding eligibility for such status. On the other hand, given the trend, there may be no reason to deny the benefits of the program to wind developers.
3. Legislative findings on transmission and distribution: We strongly object to the last sentence of section 6 to the extent that it would imply legislative commitment to developing Bangor Hydro’s second tie line linking eastern and southern Maine. We don’t feel that the findings within this bill give this issue the attention and discussion that it deserves. There are serious environmental implications to this section that need full consideration.
4. Determination of public policy. While we strongly support the development of wind energy projects, we believe that they must be appropriately sited and built in a manner that is consistent with high environmental standards. We also urge you to delete the word “expedite” as this section refers to all-sized wind projects. We do not object to its use in reference to small-scale, community wind projects (typically 10 mw or less).
We encourage you to amend the policy section to read:
“It is the policy of the state that its political subdivisions, agencies and public officials take every reasonable action to encourage the attraction of appropriately sited wind-energy-related development, consistent with high environmental standards; the permitting….”
5. Eligibility for streamlined permitting: We urge you to reduce the size of the projects eligible for streamlined permitting from 100 mw (proposed) to 10 mw, which would cover all community wind-sized projects. These projects typically are 1 to 6 turbines in size, are locally owned (municipalities, co-ops, etc.) and tend to have very low impacts. In addition, they are typically developed at or near the sponsoring community, and therefore at lower elevations. We believe this bill will provide a benefit of supporting this kind of wind development in Maine, which is being used as the model for wind development in Canada and Europe, especially Germany and Denmark. Because of local initiative, small size and low impact, community wind projects tend to have local support, and short access to transmission.
6. Siting: We urge you to delete paragraph C. of section 7 referring to siting rules as this is not the highest priority and could take a long period of time to develop. We feel the section, as drafted, would have the unfortunate consequence of pushing development only into the unorganized northern territories. We support statewide development of projects that are appropriately sited.
7. Major substantive: We urge you to amend the bill to make all rules “routine technical” rather than “major substantive” as the normal rulemaking procedures provide adequate protections and due process for all interested parties. Adding “major substantive” adds delay, higher costs in processing and potential controversy.
With these proposed changes, the Council urges you to pass LD 1379.
Thank you and if you have any questions, feel free to contact Jon Hinck at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, at 622-3101, ext. 212.