March 3 Report: Wind projects generate $223M in spending
By Tux Turkel firstname.lastname@example.org Staff Writer
AUGUSTA — The planning and development of three major wind energy projects in Maine created an average of 240 jobs per year since 2003, and resulted in nearly $223 million in spending for local goods and services, a new report done for the wind industry has concluded.
The study, by University of Southern Maine Economist Charles Colgan, is a first attempt to measure the economic impact of wind power projects using post-construction data, according to Colgan. It was presented today at the State House during the industry’s second annual Maine Wind Day, an event aimed at drawing public attention to the benefits of wind energy and influencing lawmakers and the new LePage administration.
On hand were a diverse collection of wind-power supporters from around the state: Businesses large and small that are involved in the industry, economic development officials, legislators, and clean-air advocates. They were joined by workers who benefit from wind jobs, and students being trained for the sector. Their presence sent a clear message that wind has wide-ranging geographic support that spills over into many sectors.
Maine Wind Day comes as the industry is trying to assert the value of commercial wind energy in the face of growing criticism from vocal, well-organized opponents. The sudden jump in petroleum prices is providing new talking points for advocates, and Colgan, during his presentation, stressed the need for Maine to shift to a renewable energy economy to blunt the impact of $100 a barrel oil.
But that argument, and the economic benefits cited by Colgan, overlook the high cost to taxpayers and electric ratepayers, according to Chris O’Neil, a spokesman for Friends of Maine’s Mountains.
Wind energy is expensive today, O’Neil noted, and is greatly subsidized by government tax and energy policies. Colgan’s study ignores the burden of high-cost electricity on the economy, O’Neil said, and its relatively low contribution to the grid.
“We could put turbines on every mountain in Maine, and still have little impact on electricity production,” he said.
Colgan’s study, done for First Wind Inc. and TransCanada Maine Wind Development, examined the employment impacts of three projects: Mars Hill in Aroostook County, Stetson Mountain in Washington County and Kibby Mountain in Franklin County. He found that construction spending totaled $197.8 million. Professional and technical services accounted for $23.7 million, and food and lodging brought in $1.3 million.
A major part of the employment benefit was wages paid in Maine, estimated at roughly $46.8 million. The average wage for construction jobs, including benefits, was $29 an hour, according to Reed & Reed, a lead contractor on the projects.
The three projects also involved more than 300 Maine vendors and contractors in every county but Knox.
The projects also helped prop up rural Maine during the recession, according to Chris Gardner, a Washington County Commissioner who also heads Eastport’s Port Authority. Unloading turbine blades that arrived by ship provided work at the pier while a local pulp mill was shut down, he said.
Looking ahead, participants held up the potential for wind – both on land and off the coast – as a bright spot for Maine’s future economy.
The co-chair of the legislative committee that handles energy issues, Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, said wind power components can grow to be part of Maine’s manufacturing base and become an export product.
To underscore the future potential of wind power, two students enrolled in the wind power technology program at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle participated in the event. The first class of 36 students is graduating in May, according to Timothy Crowley, the school’s president.
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