At a TED conference this week entrepreneur Elon Musk predicted solar and wind energy revolutions would create a “giant distributed utility” bigger and more powerful than monopolistic utilities existing today. Additionally, a recent report from the Edison Electric Institute predicted the US would begin to experience severe disruptions to its utilities industry in the face of new competition by 2020.
Engineers take these statements in stride; yes, technology will significantly change the world. But politicians are different: they have interests to promote and protect and ideas and ways of life they and/or their constituents hold dear. So it is no wonder the viability of wind energy became a “political football” last week.
Where Should Energy Maine Trust (EMT) Funds be Spent?
In 2009 Maine created and funded heating and weatherization programs in an attempt to reduce the relatively high monthly heating costs experienced by Maine residents. The EMT program is funded by a combination of taxes and ratepayer contributions that help residents transition to more efficient energy consumption through new forms of heating and weatherization.
In 2012 EMT used $60 million in funds on energy efficiency upgrades for homeowners. Current Governor LePage favors cutting back on efficiency and weatherization for homeowners and instead, using the funds to cut electricity rates for select industries. This is the classic “chicken and egg” riddle: which creates a strong economy; is it wealthy businesses and trickle down or is it the reverse and trickle up?
Maine Governor’s Criticism of Wind Energy
At a GOP convention, Governor LaPage created a stir when he cast doubt on the viability of renewable energy, specifically wind energy. While the governors statements were vociferously supported by critics of wind energy, wind energy supporters who have invested more than $1 billion in renewable projects in Maine were discomfited by his statements.
At issue is whether or not a wind turbine at the University of Maine, Presque Isle, has an electric motor that turns the blades to “show that wind power works” when visitors come to campus.
Other issues raised by Governor LePage involve subsidies provided to the wind energy industry to encourage growth and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). These require utilities to increase the amount of electricity they receive from renewable sources.
Governor LePage’s energy action plan can be found here: http://maine.gov/energy/about/
University of Maine’s Response
The University of Maine spokesperson responded that the midsize turbine installed on campus is the state’s first wind turbine with a capacity of 600 kW which has produced 680,000 kWh worth of clean energy in its first year. Additionally, the University of Maine at Preque Isle has reduced its utility bill by $100,000 and reduced its carbon dioxide output by 572 tons.
According to a recent poll conducted in Maine over 90% of its residents support the development at wind power as a source of electricity.
See UMPI’s wind turbine website for more information.