First Wind proposes 5 wind farms to make power for Connecticut

Posted Aug. 16, 2013, at 2:21 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 16, 2013, at 7:05 p.m.

MOLUNKUS, Maine — Maine’s largest developer of wind-to-energy sites is proposing five new projects, including one in this southern Aroostook County town, as part of efforts to add Connecticut utilities as customers, officials said Friday.

A letter from First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor to Debra Morrell of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection listed Molunkus among five proposed projects that, if approved, would generate 410 megawatts of electricity. The Molunkus project would include 65 turbines, according to documents First Wind filed with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

According to Gaynor’s July 31 letter, a proposal called Weaver Wind in Aurora, Maine, would generate 99 megawatts; Somerset, near West Forks, Maine, 85; Goshen, Conn., 30; and Hancock Wind, in Eastbrook, would generate 51 megawatts.

Connecticut, according to First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne, requests proposals from clean-energy providers such as First Wind to provide electricity for Connecticut utilities and ratepayers.

“It would be new customers for the energy we generate,” Lamontagne said Friday. “Obviously when you are developing a wind project, you have to have someone buying the power.”

First Wind operates five wind farms in Maine: Mars Hill Wind in Aroostook County, Rollins Wind in Penobscot County, Bull Hill Wind in Hancock County, and Stetson Wind I & II in Washington County.

None of the four proposals within Maine have yet been submitted to Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection for approval, a necessary step before wind turbines are built.

Lynne Williams, an attorney who represents two anti-wind groups, said First Wind’s plans “would devastate the natural landscape” if they are approved.

“It is bad enough what is already there,” Williams said Friday. “Bull Hill’s turbines’ lights can be seen from Acadia [National Park]. To just go ahead and colonize the ridgelines in Maine is not only morally wrong but I have some real issues with the so-called environmental community in Maine for allowing this to happen.”

Several environmental groups, including some that have received contributions from First Wind, have spoken in favor of two recent projects that Maine’s DEP rejected. DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho on Aug. 6 dismissed First Wind’s application to build a 16-turbine wind farm on Bowers Mountain in eastern Penobscot County because of what she described as the project’s adverse impact on the Maine landscape.

The denial was the second issued to First Wind for a project on Bowers. The now-defunct Land Use Regulation Commission denied the company’s first proposal, which was for 27 turbines, in April 2012. Aho’s rejection of another developer’s plans to build a 14-turbine wind farm on Passadumkeag Mountain in Penobscot County last November later was overturned by the Board of Environmental Protection.

Aho’s decisions, Williams said, gave her more respect for DEP than she has for the environmental groups that tout wind power as a source of pollution-free energy, a portrayal she disputes.

Wind power, Williams said, is only a fraction of the total generated — not enough to create any great savings, but more than enough to overload Maine’s power grid.

“No one can produce for public consumption any data that shows that wind in general has taken any fossil fuels offline,” said Williams, a Bar Harbor-based lawyer who represents Protect Our Lakes, a group fighting a proposed wind farm in Oakfield, and Friends of the Boundary Mountains, which opposes a proposed industrial site on Kibbee Mountain. “It hasn’t happened.”

In effect, Connecticut utilities would be purchasing the added electrical capacity represented by the new project or projects, Lamontagne said. Connecticut officials will decide what proposals to accept next week, he said.

First Wind’s financial windfall from that effort could be substantial.

The five sites appear to be early in the siting process. First Wind officials have yet to place meteorological test towers in Molunkus to gauge wind conditions there. They have instead collected weather data there, Lamontagne said.

The company, Lamontagne said, hopes to have five to seven meteorological test towers there soon.

The towers measure wind speeds and constancy to determine whether the sites they are placed on are suitable for industrial wind farms.

Molunkus is just northeast of Medway.

The company lists four industrial wind sites in Hawaii, three in New York, two in Utah and one each in Vermont and Washington. The sites have 980 megawatts worth of generators on them, according to the company’s website, FirstWind.com.

The new offerings are among plans to allow First Wind to qualify for this year’s alternative energy tax credits, which run out by Jan. 1, Lamontagne said.

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