First Wind looking to expand in Hancock County

Posted Nov. 19, 2012, at 6:36 p.m.
A turbine 476 feet tall at the tip of its upright blade towers over construction cranes and trees in Township 16 in eastern Hancock County on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. It is one of 19 turbines recently erected in Township 16 by First Wind. The company hopes to have the turbines generating electricity and connected to the regional distribution grid by the end of October, according to a First Wind official.
A turbine 476 feet tall at the tip of its upright blade towers over construction cranes and trees in Township 16 in eastern Hancock County on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. It is one of 19 turbines recently erected in Township 16 by First Wind. The company hopes to have the turbines generating electricity and connected to the regional distribution grid by the end of October, according to a First Wind official.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Now that it has brought its new, 19-turbine Bull Hill Wind project online in eastern Hancock County, First Wind is looking to expand its presence nearby.

According to David Fowler, senior land manager for First Wind, the firm hopes to erect another 17 turbines in the area. Of those, another four turbines would go up in Township 16 and 13 more in Township 22, which abuts Township 16 to the north, he said.

Last week, the company announced it had completed installation and begun generating power with the 19 turbines erected on Bull and Heifer hills. The turbines, each 476 feet tall at the highest tip of their rotating blades, can generate up to 1.8 megawatts of power apiece, giving the overall project a maximum generating capacity of 34 megawatts.

The 17 additional turbines, pending approval by the state Land Use Planning Commission (formerly known as Land Use Regulation Commission) and Maine Department of Environmental Protection, each would be larger than the ones that just started generating power. According to Fowler, the new turbines each would have a blade coverage diameter of between 112 and 113 meters and would have a capacity of 3 megawatts. The ones now operating in Township 16 have blade coverage diameters of 100 meters.

How tall the proposed turbines would be, he added, is not yet known. They are expected to be more than 500 feet tall, he said, but exactly how tall they will be depends on which manufacturer is chosen to make the turbines.

Fowler said the new project, called Hancock Wind, could be built using the same logging roads that were used to transport turbines and other equipment to the Bull Hill site.

First Wind has collected enough data about the area’s wind resources that it doesn’t need to erect more meteorological test towers, according to Fowler. He said First Wind expects to submit applications to LUPC and DEP for the Hancock Wind project by the end of January 2013, if not sooner.

Fowler said that though the new turbines would be erected in unorganized territories, nearby towns stand to gain financially from Hancock Wind. He met last week with Osborn officials and told them First Wind is willing pay the town $4,000 a year for each of the turbines, if the project is approved. He said he has offered the same deal to the town of Waltham and may extend the offer to other nearby towns, too.

Wind farm developers are required by state law to pay out a minimum of $4,000 per turbine in community benefits funds to host or adjacent communities.

According to Samantha Depoy-Warren, spokeswoman for DEP, wind power developers “have some flexibility as to what their packages actually look like as long as they meet the minimum [payment], and some do go above and beyond.”

Fowler said First Wind is paying out $240,000 each year for 20 years in community benefit funds for the Bull Hill Wind project, well above the $76,000 that state law requires for the 19-turbine facility. Hancock County is getting $200,000 annually, while Eastbrook and the Downeast Salmon Federation each are getting $20,000 a year, he said.

In addition, Hancock County is receiving approximately $100,000 a year in annual tax payments from First Wind for the Bull Hill project, company officials have said.

Downeast Salmon Federation has to use its benefit funds in the watershed area where the Bull Hill turbines are located, Fowler said, but aside from that there is no restriction on how the money can be spent.

“Those are unrestricted funds,” he said.

Roger Waterman, chairman of the board of selectmen in Osborn, said Monday that voters at a special town meeting last week voted 19-0 to accept First Wind’s offer of $4,000 per turbine as a community benefit payment. He said that does not necessarily translate to how local residents feel about the proposed wind farm itself. Local sentiment about having 500-foot turbines overlooking Spectacle Pond is probably mixed, he said, but he’s not really sure.

If the project is approved and Osborn receives community benefit funds, he said, the town most likely would use it to reduce the annual tax burden for local property owners.

“That’s the fairest way to do it,” Waterman said.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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