LINCOLN, Maine — Planning board members approved a $500,000 office building connected to a proposed $130 million wind farm, but decided late Monday they needed another meeting to review the turbines.
Poised to be the first governing body to approve the project, board members held a public hearing and questioned officials from First Wind of Massachusetts at Mattanawcook Junior High School for two hours late Monday before tabling the wind farm project for two weeks. About 70 people attended.
The project entails building 40 1.5-megawatt turbines on ridgelines in Burlington, Lincoln, Lee and Winn, with transmission lines in Mattawamkeag. It also needs approval by the other towns, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
If those approvals come, construction is likely to take a year, First Wind officials said. The approval process is expected to last three or four months.
First Wind officials and some residents touted the project as an economic boon to the region. They said it would create, at maximum capacity, about 60 megawatts of pollution-free electricity and employ as many as 10 full-time workers locally.
“Some people have said that the area doesn’t have enough wind,” said Ryan Chayters, a project manager with First Wind. “If the area was not good enough for this, we would not be here.”
The company had reviewed several alternative sites and the Rollins Mountain site for several years before picking Rollins Mountain, Chayters said.
“These things are not objectionable,” said Alan Smith, owner of Fastco Corp. of Lincoln and president of the local snowmobile club. He said estimates show that U.S. electricity needs will expand by 300 percent over the next six years.
“It is the height of hypocrisy,” Smith said, “to complain about the price of gasoline and oil and to be against wind power.”
But some neighbors who oppose the project expressed fears Monday night that the turbines would blight the pristine ridgeline, lower surrounding land values 20 percent to 35 percent, and create excessive noise and light flicker harmful to human and animal health. They also said the wind power would fail to lower local electrical rates.
Residents Gary Steinberg and Harry Epp of Lincoln said the project violated the board’s land-use regulations. According to their interpretation, the 380-foot turbines were buildings and the project a manufacturing site, of electricity — both not allowed in the area’s rural zone.
“Not only that, the land-use ordinance does not allow any structures or buildings higher than 60 feet in an industrial zone,” Epp said, “or higher than 40 feet in a rural-residential zone. So they really can’t build this thing.”
Planning board members did not comment on Epp’s interpretation.