OAKFIELD, Maine — The town will begin its review today of a plan submitted by the state’s largest wind power developer to build a 34-turbine, 51-megawatt wind-to-energy facility along Oakfield Hills.
The Wind Energy Review Facility Committee will start reviewing First Wind of Massachusetts’ application to build the $120 million facility at 6:30 p.m. at the Oakfield Community Center, Town Manager Dale Morris said. He strongly urged residents to attend.
If approved, the project will be the state’s only industrial wind development visible from Interstate 95, town and company officials said.
A subcommittee of the Board of Selectmen and the town planning board, the review committee hired two engineers, John Edgerton of Wright-Pierce of Topsham and Ken Kaliski of Resource Systems Group Consulting of White River Junction, Vt., to review all civil, mechanical and acoustical engineering aspects of the project, Morris said.
“This allows the town to utilize its own engineers at the town’s direction, so it’s a third-party review,” Morris said Tuesday. “They are not working for the state or the developer. They are working for the town at its discretion.”
The proposed Oakfield wind project would create enough electricity for the New England grid to power more than 20,000 homes, company officials have said. As a wholesale electricity provider, First Wind’s power would not go directly to town residents.
First Wind submitted the project to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in April. The application is under review. DEP is required by law to finish the review by Nov. 2, Morris said.
The project would offer about $11.8 million in benefits to Oakfield over the life of a proposed tax increment financing agreement with the town, but also carries concerns, Morris has 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 Aroostook County town’s 700 residents.
Among the concerns that have been expressed, according to Morris, is the farm’s proximity to residents — about 2,600 feet. 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.
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. First Wind has said that its projects comply with DEP regulations and that only anecdotal evidence suggests that a health hazard exists.
The committee is due to makes its recommendations to selectmen by July 31, Morris said.