Turbines arrive for Bull Hill wind site; advocates say wind farms great for state’s economy

Workers unload tower components for wind turbines Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at Mack Point in Searsport. The parts are destined for First Wind's 19-turbine Bull Hill wind farm in Township 16 in Hancock County.
Workers unload tower components for wind turbines Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at Mack Point in Searsport. The parts are destined for First Wind's 19-turbine Bull Hill wind farm in Township 16 in Hancock County. Buy Photo
Posted June 12, 2012, at 6:54 p.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — Workers unloading wind turbine components Tuesday morning at the Mack Point industrial port looked like busy ants as they toiled near the giant cylinders that will become the towers for the Bull Hill Wind Project in Hancock County.

The $76 million project, developed by First Wind and expected to be completed in November, will include 19 turbines built on about 100 acres in Township 16 MD near Eastbrook. It should generate 34 megawatts of power, or enough electricity for 18,000 homes.

And it’s a good example of the way that wind projects add to the local and statewide economies, according to proud officials from First Wind, general contractor Reed & Reed and Sprague Energy, which runs the terminal.

“We can’t stress enough the economic benefits of these projects,” Pat DeFilipp of Reed & Reed said at a wind-buffeted press conference on the bulk dock. “We’ll spend 150,000 work hours on this project. That’s several million dollars worth of payroll.”

Behind him, the tower components that came from Denmark were gently raised off the cargo ship and then lowered onto flatbed trucks. They’ll be stored at Mack Point until the 165-foot-long turbine blades from Colorado are shipped to Maine by rail. Then, when the parts are all together, they will make the trek across Waldo and Hancock counties to the Bull Hill site for assembly.

Members of the Land Use Regulation Commission unanimously voted in October — with one abstention — to give the green light for Maine’s largest wind energy company to build the rural Hancock County wind farm. It will be First Wind’s fifth project in Maine.

The others are the Mars Hill wind project in Aroostook County, the Rollins Wind project in Penobscot County and the Stetson Wind and Stetson Wind II projects, both in Washington County.

DeFilipp, Dave Fowler of First Wind and Tim Winters, the Sprague Energy terminal manager, said they wanted to give the public a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at the often-controversial wind industry in Maine.

“I just think it’s important the community understands this,” Fowler said.

Like all proposals for commercial wind farms in Maine, the Bull Hill project faced opposition from some residents and other Mainers who argue that grid-scale wind energy projects spoil the landscape and harm wildlife while generating little electricity.

Lynne Williams, a Bar Harbor attorney representing members of the group Concerned Citizens of Rural Hancock County, said after the LURC decision that her clients would be disappointed with the ultimate outcome, but pleased that more stringent standards were applied to the Bull Hill project.

Over the last five years, more than 200 turbines have come to or through Maine through Mack Point. It’s a part of the economy that has grown, even as the terminal’s usual imports slowed down during the Great Recession.

“For Sprague, wind has been a godsend,” said Tim Winters, the terminal manager. “This activity has allowed us to avoid layoffs.”

In that time frame, companies have invested nearly a billion dollars in the state’s wind industry, Fowler said.

While wind energy has been the recipient of government incentives, it’s no more than in any other energy industry, he said.

And the energy produced in wind farms here has been used in Maine as well as outside the borders.

“That makes it an export,” Fowler said. “I think it’s just as important an export as blueberries and lobster.”

Right now, he said, 100 people are working at the Bull Hill site to build roads and the turbine foundations. First Wind already has a buyer for the energy generated there — the Boston-based NSTAR.

When the site is operational, it will help add a significant amount of money to Hancock County. First Wind will pay more than $100,000 annually in taxes to the county, $20,000 per year to Eastbrook, $20,000 per year to the Downeast Salmon Federation and a $200,000 community benefit to Hancock County. First Wind also will construct a 150-foot-tall communication tower to be used by the area 911 system.

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