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The Peninsula
Web exclusive, December 17, 2009
King advocates for multiple renewable energy options

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by Carolyn Coe

Former Maine governor Angus King doesn’t believe a silver bullet exists to address global climate change. But he does believe in silver buckshot. He thinks a variety of local, renewable energy source options need to be explored in Maine.

King proposed research on the use of deep-water, offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine and expressed concern about Maine’s dependence upon fossil fuels during a talk, via videoconference, on December 10. He spoke from his home in Brunswick to the three-dozen people gathered at George Stevens Academy. Despite some technical glitches delaying the start of the meeting, all waited to listen to King’s remarks. The event was sponsored by Peninsula Power, a local group exploring the possibility of developing a community wind project to supply electricity to Blue Hill, Brooksville, Sedgwick and Brooklin.

“I think global climate change is real and the consequences will be extensive,” King said. His talk coincided with meetings in Copenhagen to create a framework for climate-change mitigation.

“The combined challenge of energy and energy sources,” King said, “is the supreme test of our generation.”

The most important first step, he said, is conservation. This includes using higher-mileage vehicles, driving 55 miles per hour, insulating homes better, and using compact fluorescent light bulbs. But, King said, conservation is not enough. Maine should seek renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels like solar and wind power.

King noted that Maine is at the same latitude as Portugal and has significant solar energy potential. An investor in onshore wind projects in Maine, King underscored the importance of choosing a site carefully to insure adequate wind energy—at least 11 mph winds—and a sufficient setback from local homeowners. King does not favor nuclear power without a comprehensive and long-term plan for what to do with the waste.

He encouraged people to think big and to look toward developing alternative energy sources that would create jobs and give Maine “a serious economic lift.”

King sees potential in deep-water wind projects developed 25 miles offshore, but recognizes that technical, financial and regulatory obstacles must first be overcome. He advocated working now to clear away these obstacles so that when the technology is available, and such a project becomes economically competitive, the project could be underway in a four to five-year time period.

Even with expanded wind-power generation, Maine’s energy needs would not be met by wind alone. Because winds blow intermittently and people desire power at all times, King suggested the possibility of working with Hydro-Quebec so that more energy used in Maine could come from renewable sources. In all cases of energy generation, environmental and community concerns must be addressed. Hydro-Quebec has had its own controversies about its dams on James Bay and is poised to acquire New Brunswick Power’s nuclear power station.

King’s big vision is to generate 5,000 megawatts of local, renewable energy to light homes, power computers, heat houses, and plug in electric cars. Forty percent of energy used in Maine goes toward home heating and 50 percent for transportation. King believes Maine needs to prepare for a return to 2008 fuel prices, and much higher. For every dollar that gasoline or home heating prices go up, 1.2 billion dollars leaves Maine’s economy as the energy is purchased from out-of-state sources. King said this is money that cannot go toward local schools and other public services.

King’s underlying message was that it is “dangerous” to be dependent upon finite fossil fuel resources extracted from other countries. As worldwide demand grows, supplies will deplete more rapidly. “There’s a huge untapped demand for energy in the rest of the world that is going to continue unabated,” King said. The long-term trend is for energy prices to increase.

Peninsula Power’s local proposal for stabilizing energy prices is to create a three-turbine, community-owned wind farm on Caterpillar Hill. The group’s goal is to provide area residents with clean, renewable, locally produced electricity at stable prices for 20 years or more. To move forward with this project, $65,000 must be raised for a feasibility study. King described this local effort as “a good way to go.” In a state where 85 to 90 percent of electricity is based on fossil fuels, the Peninsula would be moving toward greater energy independence.