Wind power developer seeks to build in Oakfield

Posted April 08, 2009, at 8:54 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:49 a.m.

OAKFIELD, Maine — The state’s largest wind power developer filed an application Wednesday to build a 51-megawatt facility in this small Aroostook County town by October.

First Wind of Massachusetts is seeking a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. If approved, the project will line the Oakfield foothills and be the state’s only industrial wind development visible from Interstate 95, town and company officials said.

First Wind has been discussing its plan with town officials for about a year. Components of 20 turbines already are on the site and residents voted 51-0 at their March 23 town meeting to approve pursuing a tax-increment financing deal with First Wind, Town Manager Dale Morris said. The company opened an office at 60A Ridge Road two months ago to help oversee its Aroostook County operations.

“We have known about this for quite some time,” Morris said Wednesday.

The proposed Oakfield wind project will consist of as many as 34 General Electric 1.5-megawatt turbines that will create enough electricity for the New England grid to power more than 20,000 homes. As a wholesale electricity provider, First Wind’s power will not go directly to town residents.

“Maine continues to foster the development of renewable energy, and we are excited to continue work to provide indigenous renewable and clean wind power,” said Matt Kearns, First Wind’s vice president of development for New England.

First Wind operates two wind farms in Maine — a 42-megawatt facility on Mars Hill and a 57-megawatt facility on Stetson Mountain in Danforth — and has several others in advanced development or seeking permits.

Rollins Mountain is a 60-megawatt facility slated for Lincoln, if it gets permits; Stetson II is a 25-megawatt facility slated for Stetson Mountain; and Longfellow is a 40-megawatt facility planned for Rumford, according to the company’s Web site, www.firstwind.com. Several other projects are in early development.

Lincoln’s Town Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed TIF agreement with First Wind on Monday, town officials said.

First Wind’s project offers about $11.8 million in benefits for Oakfield over the life of the proposed TIF with the town, but also carries concerns, Morris said.

As part of the proposed TIF, the benefits include a new $2 million fire station and significant improvements to as much as 75 percent of the town’s roads. Also, a scholarship fund would help pay tuition to state colleges and universities for some of the town’s 700 residents, Morris said.

Under state law, First Wind also would have to create and negotiate a community benefit fund with Oakfield, Morris said.

The concerns include the farm’s proximity, about 2,600 feet, to residents, Morris said.

Proponents believe wind power to be a pollution-free, efficient and inexpensive way to generate electricity that also creates jobs, generates tax money and broadens the state’s industrial base.

Opponents call it a blight upon the landscape that lowers property values, produces a fraction of the promised electricity and poses a health hazard to humans and animal life with its turbines’ light flicker and low-decibel sound. First Wind has said that its projects comply with DEP regulations, and only anecdotal evidence sug-gests that a health hazard exists.

Still, “that is of concern to some people in town,” said Morris, who will attend a celebration of the Oakfield project’s permit application in Augusta today with Gov. John Baldacci. “That is one of the issues the Board of Selectmen is sorting out right now.”

The towns of Dixmont, Jackson and Thorndike have passed 180-day moratoriums banning wind farm developments, saying they want more time to study wind farms and their impact and write regulations applying to them. At least two Maine hospitals have issued warnings claiming that turbines might be hazardous.

The State Planning Office will soon be offering a draft ordinance for state municipalities regarding wind farms, Morris said. If the board agrees, it will seek town meeting approval of that ordinance or write its own.

The DEP review is expected to take about six months.

nsambides@bangordailynews.net

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