Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) issued an executive order Wednesday that places a moratorium on new wind turbines in the state.
The order also establishes the Maine Wind Energy Advisory Commission, which will review the impact of wind farms on the state's economy and propose policies regarding future deployment of wind projects.
- LePage also said he plans to introduce legislation to amend the laws governing expedited permitting for wind projects in Maine.
Wind power has been growing rapidly in Maine, but that will likely halt with the governor's new executive order. It not only puts a moratorium on wind power development, it creates a commission to review past and future wind projects in the state.
LePage is concerned that wind power could negatively impact tourism in the state. "We cannot afford to damage our natural assets in ways that would deter visitors from returning to Maine," LePage said in a statement.
According to the governor's office, Maine attracted more than 35 million visitors in 2016, who spent nearly $6 billion. On a seasonal basis, tourists can far outnumber residents. About 40 million people visit Maine every year, but the state has only 1.3 million residents.
The moratorium aside, Maine already has a robust renewable energy portfolio. The state has 931 MW of installed wind turbines, Steven McGrath, director of the governor's energy office, told Utility Dive. And since 2015, the state has added about 500 MW of wind power, said McGrath, who also will be the chairman of the new Wind Energy Advisory Commission. There are no pending wind power permits, McGrath said.
"The governor is a businessman," McGrath said. "He wants to be sure he is getting better than fair value for what he is giving up."
The commission will comprise 11 to 15 members. In addition to a member from the governor's energy office, it will include a member from the state's Department of Economic and Community Development, a member from the state's Department of Environmental Protection and from the Public Utility Commission, as well as members from the public and private sector, including advocacy organizations.
The moratorium will last until the commission issues a report on its findings. The commission's goals and timelines will be set by the commission, McGrath said.
The moratorium and commission have raised eyebrows in the state, not only for the stance on renewable energy, but also because the commission's proceedings will not be subject to public scrutiny.
Maine, like other New England states, has long struggled in siting wind energy projects. But 10 years ago, Maine passed the Wind Energy Act, and wind power development in the state took off.
"The governor has thrown all that under the bus and wants to replace it with a secret panel," Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told Utility Dive.
"The governor has consistently attacked renewable energy in preference to imported hydropower from Canada and drilling for offshore oil and gas," Voorhees said.
Voorhess said that five years ago, LePage scuttled a deal in which Statoil of Norway was prepared to invest in a floating offshore wind project off the Maine coast.
The governor, meanwhile, also said he is going to review the state's Wind Energy Act, which he called "too ambitious and overly permissive" in a statement. "We must protect our scenic vistas," he said. "While I believe that some expedited permitting for wind is appropriate, my bill will implement constraints on where expedited development can occur to protect our tourism-based economy."