Moratorium on Wind Project Permits in Maine: Exclusion of Proximate Stakeholders

On January 24th, 2018, Governor of Maine, Paul LePage issued an executive order placing a moratorium on issuing permits for new wind projects (Cousins and Shepherd 2018). Wind power has expanded so much in Maine over the last decade, that wind-generated electricity is currently being exported from the state (Bever 2017). A 2006 project in the town of Mars Hill was the first wind project in Maine (Miller 2015). After this project, wind energy grew due to federal investment in wind energy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Sambides Jr 2009). The growth of wind energy was also aided by a 2008 state law which allowed for expedited permitting of wind projects in 4 of the 5 northernmost counties (Cousins and Shepherd 2018). The expedited process was facilitated by removing a requirement to assess impacts of wind projects on scenic views in these rural counties which also have lower per-capita incomes than the state average (Maine -Personal Income 2017; Miller 2015). The following paper includes a stakeholder analysis of the current permitting ban. The stakeholders analyzed are Governor Paul LePage, pro-wind group the Conservation Law Foundation, anti-wind group friends of Maine’s mountains, and prominent newspapers in the state.  It is apparent throughout the following stakeholder analysis that the opinions of those who live in places the ban affects are excluded from prevalent narratives in favor of economic arguments.

Without supporting evidence, Governor LePage, who enacted the executive order, claims that the loss of aesthetic value is harmful to tourism which is one of the state’s largest industries (McGuire 2017; Turkel 2018). His executive action demonstrates his strong interest and the great deal of power he has over this issue. However, he is not proximate to the issue. His hometown, the city in which he began his political career, and the state capitol where he now lives are all located in counties not affected by the executive order. LePage’s permitting ban excludes the northernmost county (Cousins and Shepherd 2018). His decision to allow permitting to continue in Aroostook County, which receives little tourism, makes it clear that economic arguments rather than opinions of proximate stakeholders were LePage’s main considerations.

The Conservation Law Foundation has sued Paul LePage claiming the executive action is unconstitutional (Turkel 2018). They argue the executive order because it violates the separation of powers since it overrides laws governing the permitting of wind projects that were passed by the legislature (Turkel 2018). Their decision to bring a lawsuit indicates that they have power and are interested. The offices of the group are located in Portland, Maine, which is more than two hours away from any town affected by the ban. When interviewed, a representative of the Conservation Law Foundation focused on the jobs wind projects bring to the state and the importance of renewable energy (Miller 2018a, 2018b). The Conservation Law Foundation does not bring the voices and positions of proximate stakeholders to conversations surrounding wind power projects in Maine, instead arguing for the economic viability of wind power.

An anti-wind Advocacy Group, Friends of Maines Mountains, stated their excitement over the renewed public visibility of wind power brought about by the ban (Turkel 2018). Given that the organization exists to oppose wind power projects, they have a strong interest in this issue. Their prominence in media conveys that they have a fair amount of power. This group has a list of “20 Key Facts” on their website, which details the economic harm of wind projects without any references for these economic analyses (20 Key FACTS n.d.). Their website also lists a P.O. box in South Portland which is far from the area affected by the executive action. The group is not proximate to the issue and their arguments are solely economic, therefore, they do not incorporate opinions of proximate stakeholders.

One of the most prominent news outlets in Maine, the Portland Press Herald, reports from southern Maine, far from the counties affected by the ban. Another significant newspaper in the state, the Bangor Daily News, is located in one of the counties affected by the permitting ban. Both newspapers are powerful forces in shaping public opinion in the state and generally trusted news sources. Neither newspaper has an apparent strong interest in this issue in that both report arguments for and against the ban. However, there is only one article, by Tux Turkel, which appears to check facts by mentioning a lack of evidence for the claim that tourism is harmed by wind projects (2018). While both papers include the positions of government officials, anti-wind groups, and pro-wind groups, both papers exclude proximate stakeholders from their reporting.

The lack of representation of proximate stakeholders in the positions of visible and powerful actors including Governor LePage, the pro-wind group Conservation Law Foundation, the anti-wind group Friends of Maine’s Mountains, and the two major newspapers in the state exemplifies the limited power that proximate stakeholders have on this issue. The stakeholders proximate to areas affected by the ban generally have lower economic status and live in rural areas, both of which contribute to their apparent lack of power over this issue. Were this executive order affecting wealthier, urban areas of the state, opinions of proximate stakeholders would likely be represented. As with any issue, opinions of proximate stakeholders likely vary. However, considering proximate stakeholders’ opinions as policy is formed is imperative as they are most directly affected by the decisions being made. It is likely that including opinions of residents in counties affected by the current ban and previously expedited wind projects would move rhetoric on this issue away from the almost solely economic arguments giving a more balanced picture of the issue.

 

References

“20 Key FACTS.” Friends of Maine’s Mountains. http://www.friendsofmainesmountains.org/the-secrets-out/

Bever, Fred. 2017. “After A Decade Of Growth, Wind Energy Stalls In Maine.” wbur 90.9. http://www.wbur.org/bostonomix/2017/06/06/maine-wind-energy-stalls

Cousins, Christopher, and Michael Shepherd. 2018. “LePage Moves to Block Most New Maine Wind Energy Permit.” Bangor Daily News. https://bangordailynews.com/2018/01/24/news/state/lepage-blocks-new-maine-wind-energy-permits/

Maine -Personal Income. 2017. Bureau of Economic Analysis U.S. Department of Commerce.

McGuire, Peter. 2017. “Maine Keeps Attracting Visitors in Steadily Growing Numbers – Nearly 36 Million.” Portland Press Herald. https://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/15/maine-tourism-economy-continues-growth-in-2016/

Miller, Kevin. 2015. “Blowing in the Wind: Maine’s Energy Past and Future.” Bangor Daily News. http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/30/energy/blowing-in-the-wind-maines-energy-past-and-future/

———. 2018a. “LePage Bill Would Gut Streamlined Permitting Process for Most Wind Power Projects.” Portland Press Herald. https://www.pressherald.com/2018/01/29/lepage-bill-would-gut-streamlined-permitting-process-for-most-wind-power-projects/

———. 2018b. “LePage Blocks New Wind Energy Projects, Creates Secretive Commission to Study Impacts.” Portland Press Herald. https://www.pressherald.com/2018/01/24/lepage-imposes-moratorium-on-new-wind-energy-permits/

Sambides Jr, Nick. 2009. “Maine Wind Farm Gets Stimulus Funds.” Bangor Daily News. https://bangordailynews.com/2009/09/01/news/maine-wind-farm-gets-stimulus-funds/

Turkel, Tux. 2018. “Environmental Group Sues LePage, Says Wind Farm Ban Is Unconstitutional.” Portland Press Herald. https://www.pressherald.com/2018/01/30/environmental-group-sues-lepage-over-wind-farm-ban/

On my honor I have neither given nor received unauthorized information regarding this work, I have followed and will continue to observe all regulations regarding it, and I am unaware of any violation of the Honor Code by others.

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