State permits 18 more First Wind turbines in Hancock County

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff
Posted July 29, 2013, at 12:48 p.m.

TOWNSHIP 22, Maine — First Wind has received final approval from the state to erect 18 more turbines in northeastern Hancock County.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued its approval for the Hancock Wind project on July 22. The project will abut First Wind’s 19-turbine Bull Hill Wind project in Township 16, which was constructed last year. Four of the 18 turbines approved for Hancock Wind will be on the eastern slope of Bull Hill in Township 16 while the rest will be erected on Schoppe and Spectacle Pond ridges in neighboring Township 22.

Each of the 18 turbines is expected to have a generating capacity of 3 megawatts for a total project capacity of 54 megawatts, according to the order signed last week by DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho. The turbines are expected to be approximately 500 feet tall at the highest point of the rotating blades. The total cost of the project is expected to be $110 million.

According to information in the order provided by the company, the construction phase of the project is expected to create approximately 100 full-time jobs while ongoing maintenance and operation of the turbines is expected to create three to six permanent jobs. First Wind predicts the turbines will have an average annual output of 150,000 megawatt-hours, which is enough to power about 24,000 homes, according to the document.

The project is expected to use existing logging roads in the area, including some that were upgraded during construction of the Bull Hill project, but additional clearing will be needed for other road upgrades and power line installation. The company also plans to erect two meteorological towers and to construct an operations and maintenance building in the adjacent town of Aurora, the document indicates.

Unlike two other commercial wind project proposals that DEP opposes, the department does not believe the project in Township 22 will have an unreasonable adverse effect on scenic resources in the area. DEP staff have indicated that proposed wind projects in northeastern Penobscot County — one on Bowers Mountain in Carroll Plantation and another on Passadumkeag Mountain in Grand Falls Township — would have unreasonable negative effects on surrounding scenic views and should be rejected.

The Hancock Wind turbines would not be visible from six specific nearby lakes or ponds or from the historic Eastbrook Baptist Church and Town House, according to the DEP. The visual effect of the turbines from Narraguagus Lake, Upper and Lower Lead Mountain ponds, and from Tunk Mountain will not be unreasonably adverse, the department determined.

There is no mention in the order, however, of Spectacle Pond, which is located entirely in the neighboring town of Osborn. The DEP order indicates that the department considered the visual effect on certain ponds within eight miles of any of the 18 turbines, and Spectacle Pond is located about a half-mile away from where the westernmost turbine on Spectacle Pond Ridge would be located.

According to Jessamine Logan, spokeswoman for DEP, the state’s Wind Energy Act defines which bodies of water have to be considered when assessing a commercial-scale wind turbine project. Spectacle Pond is not included in the state’s “Maine’s Finest Lakes” list or in its “Maine Wildlands Lakes Assessment,” and so was not considered when DEP weighed the visual effect of the proposed turbines, she said.

Roger Waterman, a selectman in Osborn, said Monday that though some local residents expressed some concerns about the proximity of the turbines, he did not get the sense that there was strong local opposition to the proposed project.

“Generally, I would say people will accept it,” Waterman said. “I don’t see a groundswell [of feeling] one way or the other.”

From the town’s perspective, Waterman added, the project will have a direct positive financial effect. Osborn has an annual budget of about $200,000, more than half of which goes toward education expenses, but community benefit payments the town would receive from First Wind annually for 20 years would amount to more than $50,000 each year, he said.

“It would reduce the tax rate,” Waterman said of the payments. He added that, because of the value of their properties, camp owners on Spectacle Pond “would get the major benefit of it.”

According to David Fowler, senior land manager for First Wind, the firm plans to pay Osborn $4,000 a year for each turbine it erects in Township 22, the total number of which will be either 13 or 14, but not for turbines erected in Township 16. Eastbrook and Waltham, he said, will get flat payments of $20,000 per year.

He said the firm is in discussions with Hancock County about additional annual community benefit payments to the county but has not yet worked out an agreement.

Fowler said he is not sure when construction might begin. It depends on when First Wind secures a power purchase agreement with a power distributor, he said. The company has yet to secure such an agreement for its approved Oakfield Wind project in the Aroostook County town of the same name, but could move ahead with both simultaneously if it gets power purchase agreements for both, he said.

“I wouldn’t dare guess,” Fowler said about a possible start-construction date. “[Getting approval] is a big stepping stone. We’ll try to start as soon as we can.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/07/29/news/hancock/state-permits-18-more-first-wind-turbines-in-hancock-county/ printed on September 14, 2014