Wind turbines at the Kibby Mountain wind farm in northwest Maine.
With private capital scarce, wind projects are lining up for federal support. The second stage at Stetson is being financed with federal stimulus money. Critics point to major federal tax breaks as subsidizing wind power development, but proponents say that’s typical of all major energy sectors. Indeed, petroleum and gas drilling is still favored by numerous tax breaks. “This is a capital-intensive business that requires lots of investment up front,” Gramlich said. “But there’s a major long-term payback since [with wind energy] there are absolutely no fuel costs.”
New England does provide a challenging arena for wind-power permitting, Kearns and Gramlich agree. “In Texas, landowners can’t get enough of it, and they compete to host new projects,” Gramlich said. “In North Dakota the wind blows strong and steady twenty-four hours a day.” But neither is as near the major population centers of the East Coast as Maine is, making Maine such an attractive, albeit challenging, market for developers. “Siting is a lot more complicated,” he said, “but it can be done.”
Getting electricity to market is also more complex when it’s from remote sources like wind farms. Mountainous locations require miles of transmission lines, and the current capacity of the grid is a bottleneck. Kearns said that First Wind had to build its own 20-mile transmission link to hook into the New England grid from Stetson Mountain. Both Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro have proposed major new transmission lines, but construction is years away. In the meantime, Kearns said, developers will have to use ingenuity to get their power to market.
Despite the challenges, Kearns often sounds like a man on a mission. “The reason I came back to New England is because I’m convinced that wind power has a big role here,” he said. He sees wind power as a great export opportunity for Maine and a way to expand the state’s economy. “There’s a lot more to do here, and we hope to be a part of it.”
Meanwhile, on Stetson Mountain in December, Reed & Reed was poised to erect its 100th wind turbine. Auspiciously, the landmark was delayed as crews waited for high winds, blowing out of the northwest across the wooded ridge, to ease.