LINCOLN, Maine — Construction is always a job-to-job endeavor, never permanent the way most jobs are, but about 75 percent of Brandon Matthews’ employment over the last three years has occurred on industrial wind sites such as Rollins Mountain, he says.
At work on the $130 million Rollins site off Route 6 since the fall, the 24-year-old technician from S.W. Cole Engineering Inc. of Bangor figures he will get as much as four months more work helping install the site’s 40 1½-megawatt turbines on Rollins ridgelines in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.
“Winters are always difficult for construction workers,” Matthews said Thursday. “A lot of us don’t always have work over the winter. This definitely helps us assuage the threat of layoffs.”
The project is among a half-dozen operating or under construction in Maine from First Wind, whose operations include Mars Hill Wind in Aroostook County and Stetson Wind and Stetson Wind II in Washington County. Rollins will be the first industrial wind site in Maine to sell electricity to Maine’s retail providers, First Wind officials said.
Twenty of the project’s 40 turbines are assembled and need to be wired into the site transmission lines and commissioned by inspectors from turbine manufacturer General Electric Co. The rest should be assembled by late April, with the site starting its generation of as much as 60 megawatts of electricity — under ideal wind conditions; such sites more typically average 20 percent to 30 percent of capacity — by July, said Peter S. Garrett, a general superintendent for Reed & Reed General Contractors of Woolwich, the lead contracting firm on the job.
“It’s right on schedule,” Garrett said.
The job has had problems. Ten days of turbine rotor installations were postponed by inclement weather — snow and high winds. An accident injured a site subcontractor several months ago, and workers on-site Thursday were scrambling to finish work before a National Weather Service-predicted snowstorm dropped 6 to 10 inches of snow on Friday.
Anti-industrial wind protesters also picketed the project in early November, claiming that First Wind carries huge debt and that its project will decimate land values, threaten residents’ health with its turbine sounds and vibration and blight the ridges’ pastoral beauty. They said it would not be built in Maine if not for the tax breaks First Wind gets.
About 200 workers have been regularly employed, and as many as 500 have done brief stints on the site, since construction began on Sept. 20, Reed & Reed officials said, with the site generating 150,000 hours of work as of Wednesday.
On Thursday, workers poured tons of concrete into steel-laced pads atop which the turbine towers, which run as high as 624 feet, will be placed. Two Sargent Corp. cement trucks from the company’s Lincoln site mixed concrete for one pad as workers shook down the concrete within the pad’s steel struts.
Construction of a 5,000-square-foot office for monitoring the site’s power generation and the laying of power cables along the site’s interior roads continued.
Sargent has manufactured an estimated 6,000 yards of concrete for the site, contractors said, providing a bounty of work not just for Sargent but for other town companies. Local subcontractors include H.C. Haynes Co., a land owner and forestry company in Winn; W. T. Gardner & Sons Inc. of Lincoln; and Treeline Inc. of Chester.
Still other local businesses, such as Daigle Oil, Hogan Tire Co., Evergreen Enterprises LLC., Access Auto & Lincoln Powersports, Clay GMC Truck Inc., Walmart, the town’s three hardware stores and its restaurants and hotels have received a temporary but powerful infusion of business from servicing the construction effort, business owners said.
Access Auto & Lincoln Powersports has reaped $50,000 to $60,000 from the project. Besides doing vehicle repairs and maintenance for Reed & Reed and the job’s subcontractors, workers bought three or four snowmobiles at $10,000 each and snowmobile parts, co-owner Peter Lyons said.
“That estimate is probably a little light,” Lyons said. “If I sat down and figured it, it would probably be more, because you have not just the Reed & Reed work, but also the individual workers.
“You see them at Tim Hortons getting coffee and breakfast in the morning and at the food stores getting things for themselves,” Lyon said. “This whole thing has provided the town a very nice economic impact in a very negative economy.”