Over the past few years, along with the huge raft of federal support the wind industry receives via tax credits, payouts, regulations, and initiatives, it’s also been all the rage for states to set up their own wind-friendly subsidies and renewable portfolio standards to help out the wind industry so that politicians at all levels can trumpet how much they care about Being Green to their constituents. All the cool kids are doing it, so why not, right?
Well, because it’s unduly expensive, it isn’t delivering on its promises, it’s a drain on state resources, and it’s contributing to increasing everyone’s energy costs — so says Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage, who’s looking to roll back some of the provisions currently setting his state’s goals fro increasing wind energy capacity:
LePage’s energy director, Patrick Woodcock, made recommendations Thursday to rewrite the state’s 2008 Wind Energy Act, shifting focus from growing wind energy capacity to lowering electricity costs and making sure Maine sees an economic return on its wind energy investments.
The Maine Wind Energy Act, a priority of LePage’s predecessor, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci, sought to expedite wind energy development in Maine. The law zoned much of Maine’s Unorganized Territory as suitable for wind development and set goals for the state to have 2,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity by 2015, 3,000 by 2020 and 8,000 by 2030.
Maine’s wind energy capacity today is about 435 megawatts, according to the Maine Renewable Energy Association.
“We are not going to be meeting that goal,” Woodcock said of the 2,000-megawatt threshold by 2015. “I think that it’s an unrealistic goal, and there should be consideration beyond that of whether megawatt capacity installed is really the best metric of our wind energy policies.”
The backing-off on the renewable-energy subsidies is not a Maine-specific trend by a long shot; governments around the world are facing the economic realities of their thwarted ambitions, and in the long run, that is actually a good thing. Long-term government aid that distorts free-market signals and encourages rent-seeking over merit-based competition is hardly a way to encourage price efficiency and bring these technologies to a place where they can stand on their own two feet and really reduce costs, not to mention that subsidizing them might be diverting resources and attention away from other fledgling technologies that may have some real competitive potential.
Even better, in the meantime, LePage is trying to use their Wind Energy Act as a model for expanding the state’s natural-gas infrastructure. Natural gas, I might add, has a much more effective track record than wind at reducing carbon emissions, creating jobs, and lowering costs — all without wind’s dependence on federal and state assistance!