With four grid-scale wind projects already built in Maine and another two under construction, the state is poised to surpass an important milestone as it moves toward its 2015 wind-power generation goal.
After last week’s ribbon-cutting at the Rollins wind farm in Penobscot County, Maine has four major wind farms, including Kibby Mountain in Franklin County, Mars Hill in Aroostook County and Stetson Mountain in Washington County. Rollins will soon join the others in generating power.
Construction is under way at two more; Spruce Mountain in Woodstock and Record Hill near Rumford.
Power produced from all of the completed projects, along with an approved portion of another planned wind farm in Aroostook County, will put the state past 21 percent of the 2,000 megawatt wind power goal set by state law, said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association.
The Oakfield project in Aroostook County, which could surpass Kibby to become New England’s largest wind farm, and the Bowers Mountain project straddling Penobscot and Washington counties are undergoing state permitting reviews.
Last Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting at the $29 million Rollins project, which spans the towns of Lincoln, Burlington, Lee, Winn and Mattawamkeag, nudged the state toward an unofficial milestone in Maine wind power development: It will have 200 turbines churning out clean energy by year’s end.
While that figure isn’t set as a goal by any state law, it still bears significance, Jackson Parker, president of the Reed & Reed construction company, said at the dedication. The Woolwich-based company has erected all of the grid-level windmill towers in Maine.
“When we put up our first turbine at Mars Hill back in 2006, we believed that we were moving into a new phase of growth for our company,” Parker said. “It turns out to have been a new phase of growth for the economy of the state of Maine as well.”
Total wind project investments in Maine approach $1 billion and construction has created or supported more than 600 jobs, according to a study the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.
One of Maine’s major environmental groups, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, hailed last Wednesday’s dedication as another step toward production of “clean, renewable electricity … which is helping Maine and the region reduce dependence on fossil fuels.”
Maine’s three operating wind farms, Mars Hill, Stetson and Kibby, generated the equivalent amount of electricity in 2010 to meet the needs of 69,000 average Maine households in a year, the council said. The figure will grow with new generation coming online.
While land-based wind power has generated a chorus of criticism from those who disapprove of the visual and environmental impacts on the mountain ridges they occupy, Payne doesn’t believe it reflects the majority view in the state. Polls suggest very strong support for wind power, he said, and the Legislature this year rejected nearly a dozen bills that could have made it harder to build wind farms.
“I truly don’t believe [opponents’] numbers are getting larger. They’re getting louder,” said Payne.
This summer, Patriot Renewables moved forward with construction of a 10-turbine Spruce Mountain wind farm in Woodstock, in Oxford County, with hopes of completing the project this year. At Independence Wind’s Record Hill project, access roads and tower foundations have been prepared and plans also are to finish by year’s end.
Maine is far ahead of its northern New England neighbors in wind power development, although one grid-scale project is under way in New Hampshire and two will be under construction by the end of the month in Vermont. In addition, New Hampshire has two operating wind farms and Vermont has one.
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously identified a project in Aroostook County. It is the Oakfield project, not the Oakland project.