Forecaster Forum: Wind yields major environmental benefits for Maine

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Wind energy is providing Maine impressive environmental benefits.

Burning coal, gas, and other fossil fuels to generate electricity consumes vast amounts of water, makes our air unhealthy to breathe, and is the leading source of the carbon pollution fueling the climate crisis.

The climate crisis threatens so much of what makes our state home: lobstering, farming, maple syrup tapping, ice fishing, our rugged coast, mild summers, fall foliage, great skiing, and more.

Maine generates more wind energy than any other state in New England, displacing electricity from polluting fossil fuel-fired power plants.

According to new research by Environment Maine, Maine’s wind energy avoided 534,700 metric tons of climate-altering carbon pollution in 2012. That’s equivalent to eliminating the pollution from more than 111,000 cars.

Thanks to its current and future benefits, wind power is a key component of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce the carbon pollution by 17 percent by 2020. The plan calls for an expansion of renewable energy, investment in energy efficiency, and the first-ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

And the benefits of wind don’t stop at reduced carbon pollution.

Maine’s wind energy also reduces smog and soot pollution and saves the nation vast amounts of water. More water is withdrawn from the nation’s lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers to cool power plants than for any other purpose, reducing the amount of water available for drinking water, irrigation, and recreation.

Environment Maine’s new research found that Maine’s wind energy avoided more than 500 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions in 2012 and 620 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions, which form acid rain and soot. Smog and soot contribute to serious health problems, including asthma attacks, heart attacks, and even premature death.

Pollution-free wind energy is providing cleaner and healthier air for Maine.

Nationally, wind power capacity quadrupled in the last five years. In 2012, wind energy displaced 84.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions nationwide – equivalent to eliminating the emissions from 17.7 million cars – and saved enough water to supply the annual domestic water needs of more than one million people.

Over the last decade, the wind industry has invested more than $1 billion in Maine, putting more than 700 local Maine businesses to work across all 16 counties. And the industry is poised to invest almost $2 billion new dollars in Maine during the next three years alone.

Despite the environmental, health, and economic benefits of wind energy, Gov. Paul LePage has continued to attempt to obstruct the development of wind in Maine – in some cases with grave ramifications, such as the recent decision of Statoil, the equivalent of Apple or Google in the energy industry – to pull out of the state.

In addition, Maine’s recent progress on wind is the direct result of state policies and federal incentives for wind power, but the main federal incentives for wind – the investment tax credit and the production tax credit – are currently set to expire at the end of 2013.

Wind energy was the largest source of new electricity capacity added to the grid in 2012. We can’t stop now.

Maine’s congressional delegation has consistently backed pollution-free wind energy, and we need their support now more than ever.

Continuing to shift away from fossil fuels by increasing wind power will reduce air pollution, slow global warming, and protect so much of what makes Maine home.

Emily Figdor is the director of Portland-based Environment Maine.