Maine’s economy has faced a difficult transition. Gone are the days of robust and stable economic growth based on our abundance of tangible natural resources. In weathering the consequences of the electronics age for our pulp and paper industry and adjusting to the austerity of a post-recession economy, Maine’s forest products industry has been challenged to adapt.
Interestingly, lost in the discussion is the potentially positive relationship wind energy has to the forest products industry, and to its future.
Much of the public discussion regarding the decrease in demand for forest products has focused on the employment and tax implications, but there is another category of sometimes forgotten individuals who are impacted directly by this transition: the landowners. The foundation of Maine’s forest products industry is large tracts of managed forest, which are susceptible to fragmentation and being taken out of production in times of economic hardship.
Despite these risks, Maine’s forest products industry is working hard to hold steady as it transitions from a specialization in pulp and paper to a more diverse portfolio that includes fuel additives, biofuels and other innovative uses of our existing resources and infrastructure. This transition has required three important ingredients: creativity, capital and patience.
While large landowners in the state are used to creativity and operating with an eye for multiple uses for their land, they are sharply on the lookout for sources of capital as they weather the transition in demand for their products. All of which would allow large landowners to avoid having to sell, fragment and otherwise sacrifice or damage their holdings.
This is where the business of wind energy comes in. It’s a source of capital, wrapped up in a fully compatible use.
Wind energy is one of the few industries interested in investing in Maine, and it’s a natural extension of our natural resources-based economy. The very same landowners who have historically used a wide variety of economic resources (loggers, truckers, construction workers) to capture the value of the natural resources located on their property, now have a new, or additional, way to walk that same familiar path. The value of this is immeasurable. It offers the opportunity to allow a compatible use to support and maintain Maine’s transitioning forest products industry. Maine’s success has always been linked with respecting the rights of private property owners to make legal and economically viable use of their property. Despite the inherent challenges of transition, that much hasn’t changed.