Hancock County, wind developer consider radio locations

Posted Feb. 08, 2012, at 6:15 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — With support from a wind power company that is erecting 19 large commercial turbines in Township 16, Hancock County hopes to improve the wireless communications capabilities of the county’s emergency dispatch center by the end of the year.

As part of the approval of the wind farm by the state Land Use Regulation Commission, First Wind is required to help the county improve its emergency radio communications coverage. That could mean the Massachusetts-based company gives the county space on one of the three meteorological towers it plans to erect in the development site on Bull Hill, just east of the town of Eastbrook. In that case, First Wind would have its wind gauge equipment at the top of a 95-meter tower (about 300 feet tall), and the county would place its equipment about halfway up the structure. According to Renee Wellman, director of the county’s emergency communications center, the equipment would not have to be any higher than that to be effective.

But on Tuesday, while Wellman and First Wind Senior Land Manager Dave Fowler met with county commissioners, Wellman suggested that Bull Hill might not be the best location for another radio repeater. The western part of Hancock County might be in more need of improved radio capabilities, she suggested.

Fowler told Wellman and commissioners that First Wind would be willing to consider paying the county’s costs for renting tower space somewhere else. According to Wellman, such rental costs could be as little as $100 per month on a state-owned tower or several thousands dollars a month on a tower owned and operated by a cellphone company.

The preliminary “ballpark” cost of the new radio equipment the county would put up on a tower, Wellman said, is $12,000. The county could use either funds it receives from First Wind as part of the Bull Hill site’s tax increment finance district or funds First Wind pays into the county’s separate community benefit account to pay for the equipment. Other possible costs associated with operating and maintaining the transmission equipment, such as a generator in the event of a power failure, could be paid with funds from one of those two financial agreements between the county and First Wind.

Wellman, Fowler and commissioners agreed that Wellman would look into what kind of radio coverage might be possible from each of the three meteorological towers that First Wind plans to erect at the Bull Hill site before the county considers whether to put its radio equipment elsewhere.

Fowler said that, regardless of where the new radio equipment goes, the company expects to have “a couple hundred” workers at the Bull Hill location this summer as the site is prepared and then the 476-foot-tall turbines are erected and connected to nearby Bangor Hydro transmission lines.

Fowler said he expects groundwork in Township 16 to begin sometime this month. The turbines, which are being manufactured by international wind technology firm Vestas, will be delivered midsummer by boat to Searsport. From there, they will be transported by truck through Bangor and Brewer, first along routes 1A and 9 and then by Spectacle Pond Road in Osborn to the project site, he said.

The First Wind official said he expects the wind farm to be operating by this fall.

In other county news on Tuesday, commissioners approved the hire of Andrew Sankey of Gouldsboro as the county’s new emergency management agency director. Sankey, who has served as chairman of EMA’s local emergency planning committee, will replace outgoing director Ralph Pinkham, who is retiring at the end of the month. Sankey’s annual salary will be $49,000.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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