62-turbine wind farm, largest in New England, proposed for Maine

First Wind, which operates five wind farms in Maine, has proposed building what would be the largest wind farm in New England north of Skowhegan. In this photo from February 2013, turbines at First Wind's most recent wind farm project in Maine, Bull Hill Wind in Hancock County, are seen on Heifer Hill in Township 16.
First Wind, which operates five wind farms in Maine, has proposed building what would be the largest wind farm in New England north of Skowhegan. In this photo from February 2013, turbines at First Wind's most recent wind farm project in Maine, Bull Hill Wind in Hancock County, are seen on Heifer Hill in Township 16. Buy Photo
Posted May 29, 2013, at 9 p.m.
Last modified May 30, 2013, at 9:36 a.m.

BINGHAM, Maine — First Wind, the Boston-based company that operates five wind farms in Maine, has submitted an application to build a wind farm north of Skowhegan. If approved, it would be New England’s largest.

First Wind on May 10 submitted an application to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to build a 62-turbine wind farm in Somerset and Piscataquis counties, according to David Fowler, First Wind’s director of development for New England.

The proposed wind farm, dubbed the Bingham Wind Project, would have a generating capacity of 186 megawatts — the amount of electricity that could be generated hourly if each wind turbine was running at capacity, Fowler said. It would have the capacity to power 75,000 homes.

“We expect this farm to produce more than half a million [megawatt-hours] a year,” Fowler said.

The 44-turbine Kibby Mountain wind farm, which was completed by TransCanada Corp. in 2010, is currently the largest wind farm in New England with a generating capacity of 132 megawatts. It is located in northern Franklin County.

The project would cost $400 million, Fowler said.

First Wind has been studying the area, which is more than 20 miles north of Skowhegan and in the vicinity of Route 16, for nearly four years, according to Fowler. The project would be different than past projects because it would not be built on high ridgetops, Fowler said. Instead, it would be built on “small hills with a large elevated plateau,” he said. One of those “small hills” is Johnson Mountain.

It’s the advancement of technology in the past five years — including taller wind towers and longer turbine blades — that makes this a viable project, he said.

“I really think we would have been questioning if this was a viable site given the technology available five years ago compared to what’s available today,” he said.

For example, the turbines at two other First Wind projects in Maine — the Stetson Wind farm and Rollins Wind farm — are 80 meters tall and have a rotor diameter of approximately 76 meters, he said.

Bingham’s turbines, on the other hand, would be more than 90 meters tall and, depending on the equipment the company chooses, have a rotor diameter of 112 or 113 meters, he said.

This all leads to an increase in output. While the older machines have a generating capacity of 1.5 megawatts, the new turbines have a generating capacity of 3 megawatts.

“So it doubles the output,” he said.

The Bingham Wind Project’s turbines would be built in three communities: Bingham (11 turbines), Mayfield Township (29 turbines) and Kingsbury Plantation (22 turbines), according to First Wind’s application.

The DEP will now review the project. There will be public hearings, most likely in Bingham, but the dates have not been scheduled yet, Fowler said. First Wind is in the process of filing other local and federal applications required to pursue the project.

Fowler doesn’t deny the project will face some resistance, but said, “we’ve got incredible support from the communities themselves.”

Judy Berk, a spokeswoman for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in an email that the organization is still reviewing First Wind’s application and has not yet taken a position on the project.

As part of its DEP application, First Wind listed the “tangible benefits” its project would provide. It claims the project, if approved, would create 350 full-time construction jobs and that an estimated $145 million of the project’s total cost would be spent in Maine.

First Wind also has signed community-benefit agreements with several of the towns affected by the project. Based on those agreements, the company would make annual payments of $176,000 to Kingsbury Plantation, $106,000 to Bingham, and $20,000 each to Abbott, Parkman and Moscow, according to Fowler.

In addition, the company would give $30,000 a year to the Somerset Economic Development Corp. to use for economic development projects in predetermined areas around the project in Somerset County. The company will also make annual payments of $10,000 to the Moose Alley Riders ATV club, the New England Mountain Bike Association and the Valley Riders snowmobile club, Fowler said.

If all goes as planned, Fowler said First Wind would begin construction on the project in 2014.

Follow BDN Business Editor Whit Richardson on Twitter at @whit_richardson.

 

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