That’s not to to say land-based wind projects have not faced opposition — Gaynor said all of his company’s projects have — but it generally has not been as vehement and vociferous as in the Cape Wind controversy. That’s partly because First Wind’s projects tend to be in remote areas visible to few people. They also bring jobs to rural areas that desperately need them.
Take Washington County, Maine, one of the poorest areas in New England. First Wind built two projects totaling more than 80 megawatts in the county, creating about 200 construction jobs that lasted several months and pumping much-needed money into the local economy during the recent recession.
“The [businesses] that were really struggling, whether it was a woodcutter’s or a convenience store — they were all pretty much bolstered by this,” said Harold Clossey, executive director of the Sunrise Economic Council in Washington County.
Jack Parker, president of Reed & Reed Inc., a Woolwich, Maine, construction company, said its revenues have doubled since it started building wind farms for First Wind. The company has constructed four First Wind projects in Maine, as well as the Berkshire Wind Power Cooperative project in Western Massachusetts and other wind farms in New Hampshire and Vermont.
“It’s transformed our company,” Parker said. “Wind accounts for more than half our business.” Reed & Reed also builds bridges, parking garages, and marine facilities.
Wind power is helping the Massachusetts economy, said Richard K. Sullivan Jr., the state’s secretary of of energy and environmental affairs. About 600 wind power companies operate in Massachusetts, employing roughly 6,500 people, according to state data.
Sullivan said Massachusetts’ energy policies were crafted to be “agnostic to offshore [or] onshore” wind farms, in the hope of encouraging both types.
“It certainly brings environmental benefits,” Sullivan said. “But make no mistake, it’s also an economic development strategy.”
Erin Ailworth can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.