Oakfield wind farm panel reviews proposal

Posted Sept. 01, 2009, at 10:13 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:42 a.m.

OAKFIELD, Maine — A town committee will release recommendations for a proposed $120 million wind-to-energy facility on Oakfield Hills that, if implemented, will make the town a standard-bearer among communities with wind sites, the town manager said Tuesday.

The Oakfield Wind Farm Review Committee has worked since mid-June reviewing the mammoth application submitted by First Wind of Massachusetts, the state’s largest wind-to-energy provider, and other data, to produce a report that will be released during a committee meeting at the town office at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Town Manager Dale Morris said.

“I think they did an excellent job. I think that they have set the standard,” Morris said Tuesday of committee members. “Communities that may be hosting wind farms in the future will look at Oakfield as the standard to follow.”

While declining to give specifics, Morris said the committee has recommendations as to how the 34-turbine, 51-megawatt industrial wind development project should be sited and what precautions should be taken to limit any adverse effects it might have on residents.

The committee, which compiled its recommendations at a meeting on Aug. 24, “basically reviewed a lot of the hot-button issues as they related to sound, shadow flicker and ice throw,” Morris said. “Some of the changes [recommended] will be incorporated into state permit. It certainly shapes up to be a better process [here] versus what happened in Mars Hill.”

Residents are invited to attend Friday’s meeting, Morris said.

Since their introduction to Maine almost three years ago with First Wind’s 28-turbine Mars Hill industrial site, wind farms have been controversial.

Opponents call wind sites blights upon the landscape that lower property values and produce a fraction of the promised electricity. The wind farms also pose a health hazard to humans and animal life with their turbines’ light flicker, low-decibel sound, and rare incidents where ice gets thrown from spinning blades.

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

A Mars Hill family and 16 neighbors filed a civil suit in Aroostook County Superior Court in Caribou about two months ago against First Wind, two construction firms and the town of Mars Hill, claiming that their quality of life has diminished greatly since the farm began operating. They also claim they were not properly notified about all that the construction process entailed.

The Friends of Lincoln Lakes, a group of Lincoln Lakes region residents and landowners, has appealed municipal and Maine Department of Environmental Protection permits granted a First Wind project proposed for ridgelines in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.

Hoping to forestall such contentiousness, Oakfield officials formed the review committee — a subcommittee of the Board of Selectmen and the town planning board — and hired two engineers to review all civil, mechanical and acoustical engineering aspects of the project. The engineers are John Edgerton of Wright-Pierce of Topsham and Ken Kaliski of Resource Systems Group Consulting of White River Junction, Vt.

The hiring effectively created a third-party review of qualified professionals not working for First Wind or the state, but for the town, Morris said. This is the opposite of what many other Maine towns confronting wind farm projects, such as Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn, have chosen to do.

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.

A town meeting has been tentatively set for Sept. 28 to discuss the committee’s recommendations and a proposed moratorium on wind farms, Morris said.

nsambides@bangordailynews.net

794-8215

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