BANGOR, Maine — Members of Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission gave tentative approval Wednesday to a 19-turbine wind farm in rural Hancock County, but the project faces some obstacles before a final vote next month.
After hashing out details for several hours at a meeting in Bangor, LURC officials were mostly satisfied with the proposal from Blue Sky East LLC, a subsidiary of First Wind, the largest developer of wind farms in Maine.
Pending additional review of some concerns over how the project would affect environmental scenery in the area, final approval is expected at LURC’s meeting in September.
Blue Sky East has proposed erecting 19 turbines, each 476 feet tall and capable of producing 1.8 megawatts, on Heifer Hill and Bull Hill in Township 16 just east of Eastbrook.
Kelly Boden, an attorney representing Blue Sky East, told LURC members that all pertinent environmental, aesthetic and financial concerns have been addressed since plans were first submitted in January.
Boden said the estimated $70 million project will benefit not only the local county through property taxes, but the entire state by creating low-cost, green energy. The project will be less disruptive than others, she added, because it will rely on existing access roads and transmission lines.
Like most wind farm proposals in Maine, though, Blue Sky’s plan has faced criticism.
Lynne Williams, speaking Wednesday on behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Rural Hancock County, urged LURC to look closer at the proposal and its potential impact on surrounding wildlife around Donnell Pond and Narraguagus Lake.
“It’s not Acadia [National Park] or Baxter [State Park], but it’s a gem of Down East Maine,” she said of the surrounding land.
The company has indicated in the past that it has plans for additional wind turbines in Eastbrook as part of the same project, but Boden said Wednesday that no plans currently exist.
First Wind of Massachusetts already owns and operates two large wind farms in Stetson and another in Mars Hill. The company also has plans for the Rollins Wind project, which would put turbines in the towns of Lee, Lincoln, Burlington, Winn and Mattawamkeag, and is awaiting LURC approval of a 25-turbine farm near Bowers Mountain in northern Penobscot County.
The Hancock County turbines would be erected on 100 acres of private land owned by a forestry firm, Lakeville Shores. Approximately 100 acres of the company’s property is to be leased to Blue Sky East, but the remaining 19,900 would continue to be used as forestry land.
Among earlier concerns that needed to be addressed was a plan for decommissioning the wind farm, should that be necessary. LURC secured a commitment from Blue Sky and the landowners that the turbines would be taken down in a safe and efficient manner, and also insisted on an escrow account to ensure that money exists to pay for that process.
The other issue posed by members of LURC on Wednesday was how LURC staff and consultants determined the public value of the land. Specifically, LURC member Edward Laverty wondered whether there were methodological inconsistencies in how that value was determined.
Williams made a similar argument.
“Just because it’s not as accessible or highly used doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be protected,” she said.
LURC members directed staff Wednesday to revisit the process for determining public value to see whether the scenic concerns truly have been addressed. Laverty said that may or may not affect the project’s fate.
A public hearing on the project was held in May, during which LURC members heard from both sides of the debate. Among the opponents were residents of the rural area who indicated their property values, not to mention their quality of life, would diminish if turbines are allowed.
Last month, Hancock County commissioners approved financial agreements with Blue Sky East for the project. One agreement would establish a tax-increment financing district and a formula by which the county and First Wind would split tax revenues generated by the project. Another, called a community benefit agreement, would establish a separate schedule of per-turbine payments to the county.
If approved, the project likely would take up to a year before turbines were up and running, according to Boden.