PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Maine's wind power industry is poised to double its energy output over the next four years and is projected to create more than 4,000 jobs in the state this year, according to a report released Tuesday.
Wind projects currently on the books will lift the state's peak wind power output to 1,300 megawatts by 2018 - much more than the 800 megawatts produced by the former Maine Yankee nuclear power plant, said Charles Colgan, author of the study by the Maine Center for Business & Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine.
The projected investment of about $1.3 billion from 2006 through 2018 is having an impact statewide - but in particular it's helping rural areas that need it the most, Colgan said.
The report was commissioned by Wind for Maine and the Maine Renewable Energy Association, which wanted to quantify the economic impact for lawmakers ahead of the upcoming legislative session.
"As they consider changes in the law that could have a negative impact on the industry, it's important that they see what the impact is in terms of jobs, investment and, although it's not part of this report, the environmental impact, which is overwhelmingly positive," said David Farmer, spokesman for Wind for Maine.
Gov. Paul LePage is skeptical of wind power because of its high cost compared to other forms of electricity.
Lawmakers last year thwarted his attempt to eliminate the state's goal of producing 2,000 megawatts of electricity through wind projects by 2015, enough to power hundreds of thousands of households.
The Republican governor plans to submit another bill in the upcoming session that aims to add the goals of increasing manufacturing of wind turbine components and lowering energy costs for consumers, instead of focusing solely power output, said Patrick Woodcock, director of the governor's energy office.
So far, the wind power industry has created construction jobs and expertise in Maine, but it hasn't led to lower electricity costs or a boost to the manufacturing sector, Woodcock said.
"What we should be talking about is how can we get more (components) manufactured in the state, and how can we get more energy sold at a discount in our state," he said.
Colgan said other states like Colorado are producing most of the major components like turbines and blades. But he said wind energy remains a good investment over the long haul in Maine because it's clean and stable even during a "turbulent time" in energy markets over the past few years.
Matt Marks, the chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, said the state's economic recovery would've been slower without the wind industry investment in Maine. "Let's face it. There's not a lot of private investment in Maine. That is one of the bright spots," he said.
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