I have been vacationing and now living in Maine since 1949. The lure of The North Woods was ingrained in me from my earliest memories. Our family came every summer from wherever we lived at the time. Alabama, Ohio, New York, Maryland, New Jersey . . . . none of them had the draw we had to this beautiful, wild wilderness. We brought a number of families with us over the years to experience Maine, and every one of them ended up coming back again and again and some eventually retired here.
Our destination was a small lake in the Lincoln area where the last 15 miles of the road was dirt in 1949. The camp we rented was primitive . . . no electricity, an outhouse, no TV and a crackly transistor radio, kerosene lamps, an old fashioned ice box, with real ice, a wood cook stove . . . all the amenities. Today it is still that way, and we bought it back in 1972, and we like it that way. We grew up lying on our backs on the dock at night looking up at the trillions of stars and galaxies in the pitch dark Bortle1 sky. So did my kids, and now the grand children and great grandchildren. As kids we learned about nature and the universe, Grandma read us books about the wilderness at night. We learned an independent spirit because we could go just about anywhere on the lake and still be in view of the camp. It was great for our young psyches to have the controlled freedom to explore, fish, swim, camp out on a secure island, canoe, motor boat, hike, gather berries and do all the things The Maine Woods offers.
Sad to say, I showed up at the camp in the spring of last year to find my view out the front porch of our camp, the view my recently passed Mother thought was “the best view in the whole world” (and she lived and traveled all over the world) was spoiled with 23 four hundred foot tall wind generators spinning during the day, and flashing their red and white strobe lights all night. I was heartbroken. Our idyllic North Woods retreat was ruined, and for what?
Everyone today has cell phones and access to the internet. Some have their phone or iPad in their hands 24/7 just so they don’t have to miss someone’s tweet or message about some inane thing that happened to them that day. The nice thing about our lake was it is a place that has such a weak signal for phones that you are almost forced to go incommunicado for the time you are there. No ringing phones, blaring TV, or traffic noise.
Only the lapping of water on the shore in front of the camp, the ting-a-ling of the wind chimes my Mother put on the porch 30 years ago, families and kids jumping off the rock 100 yards offshore. It was ideal. We don’t have electricity unless you count the two small solar panels that provide 12 volts to a battery for safe lights at night for the little ones. No fans for the heat of the summer, and we heat with a stone fireplace and wood stove when it gets real cold.
We don’t have cable or TV or running water. We used to get one or two stations on a battery operated B&W TV to get the local news and weather, but that phased out when the local channels went digital. I grew up spending two weeks there learning about nature and how to survive without being stimulated by anything but fresh air and clean water. We have been blessed in recent years by the return of Bald Eagles soaring over our lake both in the summer and winter.
While ice fishing a few years ago, we got to watch an Eagle swoop down and snatch up our catch lying on the ice. While we regretted losing our catch, we enjoyed the thought that we provided a winter meal for our feathered friends and their family. My children and their children migrate here for a week or two every summer to enjoy the things we enjoyed for all those years. I have even invested in a lifetime fishing license for all the grandchildren to make sure they know that this is a place they are always welcome. The Maine Woods will always be there for them.
Night time was also special. Our lake had a Bortle Scale reading of #1, the darkest sky possible. There was no background light. If you think you have seen stars where you live, you can probably see 10 times the stars on a Bortle #1 site. It inspired my son to study astronomy in High School and win a trip to China for a month in the 1970’s, before China opened up to the world. We have had telescopes at camp for years, and the education derived has been invaluable.
But the flashing lights on the towers have blotted out the complete eastern sky, and interfere with sky gazing as we knew it. Animals wandered into the yard and we heard them . . . raccoons, bobcats, deer, moose and every once in a while we would see bear tracks in the mud or on the road. It was very exciting, especially when you had to go outside to use the outhouse. We always travelled as a group, with lots of flashlights flashing in all directions. As we had our own kids, we used to stand at the door and watch over them as they embarked on their own adventure. The sights, smells and sounds of the wilderness were the same for me for 63 years.
There has been a big push to improve our way of life and provide “Green Energy” to replace carbon fuels. A big part of that push has been to construct industrial wind projects on the mountaintops in Maine. It sounds like a good idea, and what could be better; free energy from something as simple as wind. But it is a myth.
The myth that wind power is a good form of “Renewable” energy is just that; A Myth. The truth is, wind can not provide a reliable, dependable source of energy without enormous subsidies from the government and the power industry. The cost of production is double or triple that of gas and coal fired generators, and three times more than hydro power. If the investors in Wind Power had to rely solely on the output from their generators, there would be no investment. They lose money. Regular power plants with enough energy production to provide 100% of the grid needs as a backup still have to be powered up 24/7 to protect from spikes in wind output. The wind does not blow at a constant rate, and power levels during peak periods have to be kept constant. Operating these plants at reduced and intermittent power is very inefficient. After 30 years of building wind generators, it still only amounts to less than 2% of our total energy production. Europe has been at it for just as long, and in spite of the fact that they have far more generators than we do, it is still not profitable, and still is just at 2% of their power grid. The financial crisis in Spain is almost totally due to their enormous investment into wind power. Iberdrola, the company from Spain that runs the wind projects, has taken over CMP (Central Maine Power) and said that wind is dead in Europe, and they have to find new sources of cash from the American Government.
We in Maine have a grid system that is more than adequate to provide power for our state for the next 40 years. Iberdrola upgraded the grid over the last two years to provide for industrial wind. They spent $1.8 billion dollars, and raised our rates almost 20%. After the job was done, they announced that to truly provide protection for wind, they would have to spend another $19 to $26 BILLION on new upgrades. Maine already has some of the highest rates in the country, and that would put us out of sight. We the ratepayers have to foot that bill. Maine produces almost twice the amount of power it needs at peak times. The rest is shipped out of state. We are second in the Union in producing renewable energy, and Wind is a very small part of that. Sad to say, the power that comes from Maine’s wind turbines goes into the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. We only have the blight and higher rates, they get the expensive power.
While we in Maine are one of the cleanest energy states in the Union, we are having our idyllic scenery destroyed by Industrial Wind. In order to erect turbines on mountaintops, they have to blast down to bedrock and clear thousands of acres of CO2 sequestering trees. They remove the water filtering forest floor and provide ditches to drain the rain runoff along with silt and contaminants to our lakes and streams. They spray defoliants to keep the forest from growing back. Our raptor population is in danger of being decimated by rotating blades. They are actually attracted to the blades. Bats are also endangered, and we provide housing for them. Bats are becoming an endangered species anyway from the fungus disease they are experiencing. They are our best friends when it comes to black fly and mosquito season. We have used hydro power in Maine for more than a century, yet many of the dams that have provided continuous, reliable energy, have been removed from rivers to make it possible for salmon to return to their spawning grounds. There is no proof that they will return, and they could have made fish ladders for far less than the removal of the dams. Many of our rivers will be changed to streams, and will provide no protection for floods in the future. Homes that have enjoyed riverfront views will now have great expanses down to the river’s edge. There will be no more power coming from their turbines. This is a very shortsighted policy. Wind turbines can never replace the reliable power we have enjoyed for the last hundred years.
Power from gas powered plants costs the consumer less than 10 cents a kwh. Hydro is even less than that. We don’t have coal powered plants here. Wind costs around 56 cents a kwh and that does not include the transmission costs and grid upgrades. It costs about $56 million to build a gas plant that provides 10 times the power of a wind farm of 25 – 30 turbines. That same wind farm costs $150 to $200 million to build. The gas plant takes up maybe 50 acres to site and the wind farm may take 5,000 acres from our wilderness. That is 5,000 acres of trees that sequester CO2, far more than the wind turbines save. These are the facts of the issue. Industry does not belong in the woods.
Much of the income for Vacationland comes from tourism, people who come here to experience the same idyllic wilderness we did in 1949. I’m not too sure how many of them would come to see wind farms on the horizon of their “most beautiful view in the world”. I am less concerned by the young people of today using cell phones while they experience the wilderness. It is their choice that they might miss some of the true beauty of trails and wildlife. At least they get to experience what they choose to take in. Those of us who do care to take every ounce of the experience are being deprived of it by a much larger intrusion of modernity into our world. Industrial wind is just that . . . Industry on the tops of mountains that should be kept pristine.
It is time we make some hard decisions about who we are here in Maine. While it is important that we find alternative ways to make power, maybe we should consider going back to the hydro power we used here for generations of Mainers. Some of the dams we still have could be upgraded to boost the output to the same amount the wind farms generate. They provide steady reliable power, unlike wind. We could really cut back the use of fossil fuels, because hydro doesn’t fluctuate. Is there anyone else out there that wants to keep the beauty of The Great North Woods?
Jim Lutz, a retired graduate of Johns Hopkins University, lived in about 15 different places before retiring to Maine from Massachusetts in 2000. He came to the idyllic lake described above for the first time at age 1 1/2 from Ohio where his father (now 93, a chemical engineer) was in graduate school.
Lutz has studied scientific anthropogenic global warming (AGW) passionately and has been fighting the wind power and alcohol fuel cronies for the last seven years with many published editorials and letters in Maine and Boston newspapers.