CLIFTON, Maine — With the push for renewable energy part of the national agenda and the Maine Public Utilities Commission directing local utilities to enter into long-term contracts with Community-based Renewable Energy projects, it’s no surprise that small industrial wind projects such as the one planned for Pisgah Mountain are popping up around the state.
The PUC has directed Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. to enter into three 20-year contracts for renewable energy projects — one with Pisgah Mountain LLC, the others with Jonesport Wind LLC and Lubec Wind.
Bangor resident Paul Fuller and his wife, Sandy, his brother-in-law Mike Smith, and Clifton residents John and Eileen Williams make up Pisgah Mountain LLC.
“It’s community wind,” Smith said. “This is fairly new. I think it’s something that is going to have a bigger impact in the future. It’s small-scale and it can work.”
When Fuller first approached town officials in early 2009 about his plans to build a wind farm on his 270-acre Pisgah Mountain property, there was nothing on the town’s books to stop him.
Did Fuller and his partners try to take advantage and quickly slip in a site plan application? No, according to Fuller.
“Steamrolling people in the state of Maine is what other folks can do, but it’s not something I’m willing to do,” he said last week.
His actions said a lot to town officials, according to Eric Johns, chairman of the Clifton Planning Board.
“It said that he was interested in working with the town,” Johns said. “If asked to describe it, I would say he was being community-friendly.”
The Fullers purchased their land from G&D Properties, a timber company that continues to own about 1,300 acres of the mountain.
“They had cut the wood off it and were willing to sell it,” Paul Fuller said.
The Fullers had originally thought about building a wind farm on property they own in Otis, but it was nowhere near a transmission line and had environmental issues, he said.
“What I needed was a transmission line that had the capacity on property without wetlands and wildlife issues,” Fuller said. “We chose Pisgah and it has proven to be a very good site. It’s a tested wind resource.”
The wind farm partners have an agreement with ISO-New England, the operator of the region’s bulk power system and wholesale electricity markets, to connect to nearby Line 66, which has the capacity to handle the 9 megawatts of electricity that will be generated by the five turbines, Fuller said.
“Local Bangor Hydro customers will be getting this wind power,” Smith said.
Shortly after buying the land, Fuller approached the town about putting up a meteorological tower to see if there was enough wind to harvest. While the tower collected data, town planners worked on creating industrial wind energy rules.
Three years ago, “we weren’t very knowledgeable about wind,” Johns said. “We asked [Fuller] to refrain from putting in an application, to accommodate the town, and he said he’d wait until after the ordinance was done.”
Creating the 28-page wind farm ordinance took a year. What town planners created was one of the strictest wind ordinances in the state — with 4,000-foot setbacks and ambient sound-level ceilings that are well below the state standards, Johns said.
In the first year or so, Fuller scaled back his project from 17 to five turbines, mainly because of the cost and also because the wind farm partners changed the type of turbine — from a General Motors variety to a quieter one made by Vestas — to cut down on the ambient noise, Fuller said.
As planners prepared to present the new wind rules to residents, several locals led by Crystal Phillips and Peter and Julie Beckford started the Clifton Taskforce on Wind to oppose the project.
Each issue brought up by opponents — setbacks, sound levels, blade glint, wildlife impacts, decommissioning the units — was fairly addressed by town planners, Johns said.
“I feel like we have bent over backward to be more than fair and obliged all the parties involved,” he said.
The planning board unanimously approved the estimated $25 million, five-turbine wind farm in October. The Beckfords and Phillips asked the town’s board of appeals to review the planning board’s decision to see if they followed the letter of the law. The panel decided Wednesday to deny their appeal.
“I feel like we are under siege and have been for a couple years,” Peter Beckford said. “It’s not right. Two-thirds of our land gets effectively annexed. Their setback covers most of our land.”
Fuller said it has been a lengthy process to get the project approved and stressed that Pisgah Mountain LLC has done everything by the rules.
The towers are expected to generate approximately $295,000 annually in property taxes and another $5,000 per megawatt through a community benefit offered by the partners that adds another $45,000 annually to town coffers.
“We did ask that 90 percent of that … go to the taxpayer,” Fuller said. “We wanted the benefit to go to the people.”
John Williams, who is the grandson of Leon Williams, operator of the old R. Leon Williams lumber mill, said he supports all business developments, especially ones that will bring renewable energy. One of the five turbines will be erected on his abutting property.
“I am for any business coming to town,” he said. “It is a nice location to do something positive with.”
His title may be developer, Fuller said, but all he wants is to be a renewable energy farmer.
“I’m just a little guy in Bangor,” he said. “And I want to farm the land.”