BANGOR, Maine — The proposed $60 million Stetson II wind farm in Washington County earned its final state permit Wednesday after proponents made their strongest statements yet dismissing health concerns associated with wind power.
The Land Use Regulation Commission voted 5-0 to follow staff recommendations endorsing the 17-turbine project, which First Wind of Massachusetts will build in T8 R4 on Owl and Jimmey mountains north of Route 169 outside Danforth. It expands First Wind’s 38-turbine Stetson facility, which went online in January.
The project will create 350 temporary jobs while providing Maine with a sustainable, nonpolluting energy source, First Wind officials said.
“This is great for Washington County,” Harold Clossey, executive director of the Sunrise County Economic Council, said Wednesday. “We have had a wonderful experience working with First Wind and we look forward to the launch of Stetson II.”
No date for that launch has been set because funding for construction of the project is not in place. First Wind officials are hopeful that they will find investors, or money in the economic stimulus package, to fund installation.
Held at the Spectacular Event Center on Griffin Road, the three-hour meeting drew more than 40 people, including several who oppose First Wind’s 28-turbine Mars Hill facility and its proposed 40-turbine Rollins Mountain project on ridgelines in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.
One opponent, Gary Steinberg of Lincoln, said Maine Department of Environmental Protection regulations were 20 years old and lacked standards regarding dBCs, or low-decibel sounds. He accused state officials of accepting “wind-industry propaganda” instead of real science.
“They [the state standards] are based on no science,” Steinberg said. “They have never been peer-reviewed or independently reviewed. This whole process needs further review.”
“I am fascinated that only in the last two weeks have we heard about dBCs,” Commissioner Stephen Wight answered.
Low-decibel sound is allegedly the primary culprit of “wind turbine syndrome,” or “acoustic radiation,” in which people have claimed to suffer symptoms — including nausea, back problems, mood disorders, seizures and heart attacks — due to their proximity to turbines.
Strobe effects caused by rotating blades cutting sunlight also contribute to the syndrome, opponents say.
But studies and other evidence claimed by anti-wind proponents, said attorney Dean Beaupain of Millinocket, who represents Lakeville Shores, one of the landowners benefiting from the project, “fall into two categories: not supported by any evidence or irrelevant.”
Lawyer Julia Brown, who represents First Wind, and Charles Wallace, a sound expert who reviewed the project for First Wind, objected to the “sweeping generalities” of Steinberg’s statements, their “lack of scientific support” and their last-minute introduction to LURC commissioners.
Low-level sound standards and many scientific peer reviews are part of Department of Environmental Protection regulations. Low-level sound has been studied since the 1960s, Wallace said, and Steinberg’s statements betray “a complete misunderstanding of the wisdom of DEP regulations,” which agency officials have said were adequate for wind site reviews.
“This is not a new phenomenon,” Wallace said, calling Steinberg’s research “a lot of anecdotal evidence not scientifically researched or written.”
After the meeting, he dismissed wind turbine syndrome as “a term coined by somebody to make a point.”
If there was anything to the idea, Wallace suggested, it would have long been found by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the New England Journal of Medicine, among others.
With the nearest Stetson resident about 6,100 feet from the closest of the new turbines, many of the issues discussed by wind power opponents were irrelevant, Brown said.
Each turbine is nearly 390 feet tall from its base to the highest tip of its blades.
First Wind’s standards for its projects are also much more stringent than the DEP’s, said Matt Kearns, First Wind’s vice president of development for New England.
Stetson II 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 project would be built on commercial timberlands owned by Lakeville Shores, which also owns the land on which the first Stetson project was built.
First Wind has already purchased the 17 turbines and is storing them near the site.