On the eve of Statoil project collapse, Gov. LePage spread lies about wind power

Norwegian offshore turbine – Statoil

On Tuesday, Norwegian energy company Statoil announced that it has cancelled its offshore wind power plans for Maine and will pull its resources from the state after Governor Paul LePage’s successful campaign to change the regulatory framework for the company’s development project.

Paul Williamson, executive director of the Maine Ocean & Wind Industry Initiative told Bangor Daily News reporter Whit Richardson that the move is “a huge disappointment” for renewable energy in Maine, although a project led by Cianbro, Emera and the University of Maine will go forward.

“Without Statoil’s investment, we still have an opportunity to be first to market with the university’s project, but having two offshore wind projects in Maine would have been big elements in creating the entire industry here. Now the opportunity is less likely that Maine will be the birthplace of this industry,” said Williamson

The night before Statoil’s announcement, in a speech to an open event hosted by the conservative Informed Women’s Network that the governor did not know was being recorded, LePage made his broad opposition to wind power very clear.

“Then you have wind. Wind power is enormously expensive. To give you an example – hydroelectricity – we can buy hydroelectricity from Quebec for about five or six cents per kilowatt. The lowest power contract for wind right now is 21 cents and there’s only a handful of people who are making the money. One of whom happens to be one of my predecessors,” said LePage.

In this statement, LePage is blatantly lying about the cost of energy in Maine.

Let’s take his statement about hydroelectric power first. As an exhaustive report by the Portland Press Herald in January explained, under provincial law Quebec’s hydroelectric energy rates are reserved for the Québécois themselves. Energy they export they sell at market rates.

There’s also no direct transmission infrastructure to Maine, which means a costly routing through New Brunswick or the building of an expensive new line through Western Maine.

In Vermont, where they do have a transmission link to Quebec, the cost for Canadian hydropower last fall started at twice the average wholesale market price for power in Maine.

As for the cost of wind power, LePage’s claim about the cheapest contract rate is easily proven false. As the Bangor Daily News and the Boston Globe reported, a contract signed just last month for power from Maine wind farms guarantees a rate of eight cents per kilowatt hour, less than the rate for nearly every other form of electricity production and well below the average Maine residential electricity cost of 12.8 cents per kWh.

LePage has also previously claimed that the wind turbine at the University of Maine at Presque Isle was turned by a “little electric motor” meant to trick people into thinking wind power works.

None of this is to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons to oppose wind power. People object to wind development for everything from ridgeline aesthetics to concerns over noise pollution and the despoiling of wilderness areas. Offshore wind development, like the cancelled Statoil project, mitigates some of these issues but is still experimental and will require initial investment before it can attain its full potential. Energy policy is a complex area and reasonable people can disagree.

LePage, however, is not being reasonable or even honest. His statements prove that his stance on wind power, as is the case with far too many issues of public policy, isn’t based on facts but on fake anecdotes and false statistics, which he fervently and angrily repeats. His attitude and his dishonesty make it difficult for Maine to attract new power options, reduce electricity rates and secure our energy future.

Download the audio here. This is the third clip from LePage’s speech this week in Falmouth. (1,2). More to come.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike writes about Maine politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center, writes a political column for the Portland Press Herald