LINCOLN, Maine — Protesters who feel the $130 million Rollins Mountain industrial wind facility is a blight upon the landscape will be among those on hand at the project’s ribbon-cutting on Wednesday, one of the group’s organizers said Sunday.
Brad Blake, a leader of the Friends of Lincoln Lakes group and a member of the Citizens Task Force on Wind Power, said the task force-sponsored protest will be vastly different from one the friends group held at the Rollins site off Route 6 in November.
“It is the total opposite of what happened last November, absolutely,” Blake said Sunday.
That protest was an exercise in civil disobedience and political theater. Five protesters were charged with criminal trespass after they had linked arms on a new access road onto Rollins and refused to allow construction vehicles to pass. The road was more than 100 yards inside the property owned by a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based First Wind.
Others, including a few dressed as clowns, carried signs warning of the project’s supposedly disastrous effect on Rollins. About 35 protesters attended.
Wednesday’s protest, Blake said, will be a dialogue with media covering the event. He said he expected that the media coverage would be dominated by First Wind spin-doctoring and feature only platitudes about wind power, without the protesters’ balancing influence.
“First Wind will be touting their success with the Rollins project, and rightfully so,” Blake said. “We also want to give the people who are upset with the project a chance to stand with us and whatever reporters are there can take an interest in what they have to say. It is more of an opportunity to engage the media because they [protesters] will be there than a form of protest.”
Among those Blake said he hoped would be joining protesters are Lincoln Lakes region residents affected by the project and Mainers who strive to stop the state’s proliferation of industrial wind power.
The invitation-only event will be held at the Rollins site off Route 6 at 11:30 a.m. to commemorate the completion of the project, said Travis Small, a spokesman for First Wind, the Massachusetts-based owner of the project.
The state’s first wind site that will generate electricity for Maine’s utility rate payers, the 40 1½-megawatt turbines at Rollins are just about ready to start. Financed partially with an $81 million construction loan and a $17 million letter of credit by Key Bank National Association and Norddeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale, Germany’s 10th largest financial institution, the project is expected to have a maximum capacity of 60 megawatts, though such projects typically create no more than 30 percent of their capacity.
The turbines are on ridgelines in Burlington, Lincoln, Lee and Winn. Site clearing and other prep work began in late September, with pouring of the turbine’s concrete bases and turbine assembly starting in October.
The project is among many opposed by anti-wind groups, which say such wind farms harm wildlife and threaten human health, lower land values and are federal and state investments of questionable worth. The groups have lost all of their legal fights against Rollins, but they haven’t stopped fighting, and they claim that their memberships are increasing as more projects start around the state.
Local officials and project proponents said that about 200 workers have been regularly employed, and as many as 500 have done brief stints on the site, since construction began in September 2010. Contractors said the project provided a bounty of work for them and many town businesses whose owners said they have received a temporary but powerful infusion of business from the construction effort.
Town leaders said that about $267,000 in anticipated tax-increment financing revenue generated by the project has helped the town maintain its property tax rate at 20.12 mills while hiring an additional police officer and making several purchases totaling close to $500,000.
Blake predicted that the blight such projects represent won’t be apparent to local residents until the turbines go operational, saying that noise disturbance from the project is inevitable.
In May, prosecutors dropped charges against the protesters arrested in November, saying in their motion to dismiss the charges that the protesters planned to use “the process for the purpose of political speech and protest.”
“The state feels that employing the court process for this purpose would be an unwise use of public funds and unfair to victims of other criminal cases awaiting trial, especially child abuse and spousal matters,” the motion read.