Author

Evan Rallis

Date of Award

2003

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Richard Judd

Second Committee Member

Scott See

Third Committee Member

Howard Segal

Abstract

Focusing on how Maine reflected, as well as stood out from national trends in the development of wind and solar energy, this study concentrates particularly on how Maine state government and environmental groups contributed to this development, as well as on the technological progress of these energy sources. It draws primarily on state government documents, newspapers, and periodicals for evidence. The 1973-74 energy crisis, combined with the rise of the environmental movement, led to an increased exploration of alternative energy sources, in particular those that were relatively friendly to the environment like solar and wind energy. Attempts to utilize these energy sources during the 1973 to 1976 period were filled with hopeful idealism, but also limited by the relatively primitive nature of the available technology. During the late 1970s, Maine state government provided several financial incentives for renewable energy sources, particularly solar energy. It also played an important educational role, publishing many brochures and papers geared towards the general public. Maine's environmental advocates also played an educational role, and encouraged some of the state's actions in favor of renewable energy. The high point in government and public interest in solar and wind energy came during the late 1970s and early 1980s in Maine and across the country. It began to decline after this due to the comparative lack of support from the Reagan Administration, and a concurrent decrease in oil prices. Federal tax incentives, a strong encouragement to adopt wind and solar energy, expired at the end of 1985. Technologically speaking, wind energy was rather unreliable generally until the late 1980s in the U.S. Solar energy, on the other hand, proved more reliable for the general public, as early as the late 1970s. Neither was competitive economically with fossil fuels in locations on the utility power grid. Off the grid, however, this became less and less true over time, particularly for solar energy. Despite their differences, both energy sources improved technologically over time. The second half of the 1980s was a quiet period for solar and wind energy development in Maine, but during the early 1990s a large wind farm proposal by a California wind power company, Kenetech, created quite a bit of attention since it was easily the largest proposed wind or solar energy project in Maine's history. This project faced several hurdles, including environmental advocates' concerns over its location in an undeveloped part of the western Maine mountains, and the necessity of land-use rezoning. By 1995 it had received approval from the state government and Maine's major environmental groups, only to fail two years later due to Kenetech's financial problems and a lack of utility contracts. This episode illustrated Maine's dependence on out of state forces to develop wind and solar energy. Generally, these included the technological development and cost of solar and wind energy, fluctuating oil prices, and the national political climate. But it also showed that its own support for them was substantial (despite the project's failure). Maine's support for solar and wind energy arose in part from the strength of its environmental movement and its general independence.

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