Developers see fertile land for wind turbines in Jonesport

Posted June 27, 2013, at 2:16 p.m.
Last modified June 27, 2013, at 5:19 p.m.

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JONESPORT, Maine — Residents of coastal Washington County have long been accustomed to the soaring communications towers at the Navy’s antenna array about 15 miles away in Cutler, but now might have more looming figures added to the area’s skyline.

At least two developers hope to erect tall commercial wind turbines off Mason Bay Road, the stretch of Route 187 skirting Englishman Bay. Each project would have only three to five turbines apiece. Many commercial wind farms in Maine, such as those operated by First Wind or TransCanada, have anywhere between 20 and 50 turbines.

One developer interested in Jonesport is Kean Energy LLC, a Turner firm that since 2010 has been looking into putting three large turbines on land owned by local residents David and Priscilla Look, on a hill west of Mason Bay Road.

Kean Energy is proposing to erect three large turbines in Lubec off Route 191 but has yet to file permit applications for either site with Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The second firm is Mason Bay Wind LLC, which last month was given the go ahead by the Jonesport planning board to erect five turbines. According to documents on file with the town, Mason Bay Wind is hoping to erect the turbines, each about 500 feet tall at the highest tip of their blades, on a parcel of land southwest of Mason Bay that is owned by the Beale family. The company also has received local approval to erect a 200-foot-tall meteorological tower on the site.

Mason Bay Wind also has not yet filed permit applications with DEP, according to DEP spokeswoman Jessamine Logan. The state agency must grant approval to commercial wind power projects in Maine before they can be built.

John Beale of Mason Bay Wind said Thursday that the firm is a family business that he runs with his brother Benjamin Beale and his father Raymond Beale. The turbines would be erected on a 700-acre blueberry farm that his parents purchased a few years ago.

“We’re engineers,” he said of his family. “We’re doing all the work ourselves.”

Beale said that though they have received town permission to erect five turbines, they might put up only three or four, pending DEP approval. He said the they are considering using land below the turbines for grazing livestock.

Beale said the nearest house to the proposed turbine site is nearly a mile away and that only a few minor changes to the existing farm roads would be needed for construction and operation of the turbines. He said they do not anticipate any effects on wetlands or critical animal habitat such as eagle nests.

“We’re not on any migratory bird routes,” he said. “The environmental impact is very, very small.”

Beale added that most of the feedback he has gotten from local residents has been supportive and that the town would benefit from the taxes generated by the project. He has discussed setting up a tax-increment financing district with the town that would designate all property taxes from the wind farm toward infrastructure projects.

“We would still pay the same amount of taxes either way” with or without a tax-increment financing district, he said.

Peter Whitney, co-owner of Kean Energy, said Tuesday that his firm is interested in erecting turbines in Jonesport and Lubec but is revising its plans. A few years ago, it was leaning toward erecting three 400-foot-tall, 1.5-megawatt turbines, but now it is considering larger machines. He said Kean Energy is considering turbines with generating capacities between 2.5 and 3 megawatts.

“We’re revising our building permit [application],” Whitney said. “We’re still early in that process.”

Local resident Bruce Patten said Thursday that one of the Kean turbines would be within 3,000 feet of a home he and his significant other, Jane McMichen, are building on Mason Bay Road. He said they have concerns about the effects of a possible low-frequency pulse or noise that some people who live near turbines elsewhere in Maine say they can hear from the machines.

“A noise you can’t get away from is concerning,” he said.

Patten said he doesn’t expect there to be other significant problems posed by the project, such as visual or environmental effects. As long as state and local standards would be enforced and the effects on neighbors and the environment would be minimal, he said, he has no particular objections to the proposals.

Local resident Sarah Davis said Wednesday that she has some concerns about large wind turbines being erected near her home on Mason Bay Road, where she also runs a quilting and upholstery business.

“I’m a little concerned about the hum,” she said. “I’m concerned primarily about songbirds. I don’t know if we’re [near] any migratory routes.”

Davis said she is not opposed to turbines going up near her house, as long as the effects aren’t too significant. She said that pollution and environmental issues posed by the use of coal, or nuclear power or by fracking for natural gas and oil warrant the development of wind, solar and tidal energy projects, which do not create pollution or hazardous waste.

“I think it’s important to give new technology a try,” Davis said. “We have to get away from fossil fuels.”

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