Wind farm expansion supported

Posted March 02, 2009, at 8:25 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:03 a.m.

Staff at the Land Use Regulation Commission is endorsing a 17-turbine wind power facility in northern Washington County near the town of Danforth.

The project by First Wind of Massachusetts would be an expansion of the company’s 38-turbine Stetson Mountain wind energy facility that began commercial operations earlier this year. Stetson II, as the new project is called, would be built in T8 R4 on Owl and Jimmey mountains north of Route 169.

Commissioners will take up the LURC staff recommendation this Wednesday. The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at 1 p.m. at the Spectacular Event Center on Griffin Road in Bangor.

Also Wednesday, LURC is expected to post to public comment the draft implementing language for Plum Creek Timber Co.’s historic development and conservation plan for the Moosehead Lake region.

The Stetson II project, as proposed, would be rated to produce up to 25.5 megawatts of pollution-free energy at maximum capacity, although actual output will vary considerably depending on wind conditions. The estimated $60 million project would be built on commercial timberlands owned by Lakeville Shores, which also owns the land on which the first Stetson project was built.

Each of the turbines would stand nearly 390 feet tall from the base to the highest tip of the blades.

First Wind, which also built the Mars Hill wind farm in Aroostook County, has already purchased the 17 turbines and is storing them near the site. But the national economic turmoil is hitting wind energy projects hard, making it difficult for some projects to receive financing. The recently approved economic stimulus package contains money for “green energy” projects.

Matt Kearns, First Wind’s vice president of development for New England, declined to go into specifics in an interview Monday but said the company remains committed to completing Stetson II.

“We’re looking forward to building the project when we can,” Kearns said.

Stetson II is the first major wind power project to be processed under the state’s new expedited regulatory review system, which aims to streamline the approval process for projects located in areas deemed appropriate for the technology.

Under the expedited review process, would-be developers are still required to receive permits from LURC or the Department of Environmental Protection. However, the developers do not have to rezone the land or prove the project would fit harmoniously into the surrounding terrain.

The expedited review process, which was spearheaded by Gov. John Baldacci’s administration, is controversial among some who regard it as a way for the state to rush through industrial wind projects in rural Maine with minimal public involvement.

Critics also accuse the wind energy industry, including First Wind, of understating the impacts the 400-foot-tall turbines have on humans and wildlife.

First Wind also has submitted an application with the DEP to build a 40-turbine wind project on ridgelines in the communities of Lincoln, Lee, Winn, Burlington and Mattawamkeag. That project, known as Rollins Mountain, is still pending with regulators.

The Friends of Lincoln Lakes citizens group, which opposed the Rollins Mountain project, also opposes Stetson II, member Gary Steinberg said.

“We’re opposed to it. There hasn’t been a process with LURC. It’s been a ramrod,” Steinberg said, calling First Wind “a parasite on this whole area.”

The Friends group contends that turbines such as First Wind intends to install at Stetson II and on Rollins Mountain would threaten human and animal health, reduce land values with light flicker and low-decibel sound, are eyesores disruptive to the area’s natural beauty and typically generate a fraction of their capacity.

BDN writer Nick Sambides Jr. in Lincoln contributed to this report.

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