Wind energy utility leasing more than 7,000 acres of land Down East

Posted July 25, 2014, at 4:02 p.m.
Last modified July 26, 2014, at 1:20 p.m.

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TRESCOTT, Maine — Atlantic Wind, a subsidiary of a global utility business, has leased thousands of acres in two coastal communities and is gathering data to assess the feasibility of a wind energy project there.

Atlantic Wind has leased a little more than 7,200 acres in Washington County, including about 4,200 in Whiting and 2,900 in Trescott, according to Paul Copleman, a spokesman for Iberdrola Renewables, the parent company of Atlantic Wind.

He declined to say how much the company was paying to lease the land.

Whiting is located east of Machias and straddles U.S. 1; the town has a small area of shoreline on Holmes Bay. Trescott, which neighbors it to the east immediately before Lubec, is more remote and has shoreline on the Atlantic Ocean.

None of the leased parcels contain shoreline, according to Robert Judd, a summer resident of Lubec, who has been gathering information about the company’s activities in the region.

However, some leased property in Trescott borders an area of Route 191 that is part of the Bold Coast Scenic Highway, he said.

Judd shared his findings with about 50 people at a meeting he organized in Trescott on July 16. The session was not used to advocate against wind energy nor to favor development, Judd said Monday.

The newest generation of wind turbines are 475 feet to 510 feet tall at the highest point — when a blade is at its apex, explained Judd.

“That’s equivalent to the height of a 50-story office building,” he said. The turbines would create a definite “visual presence,” he said, and would be equipped with aircraft hazard warning lights, as required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Atlantic Wind erected two test towers in Whiting in 2010 to collect wind data and added two more test towers in Trescott this year, according to Copleman.

Atlantic Wind is a business unit of Iberdrola Renewables of Portland, Oregon, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Iberdrola, a Spanish utility that is the world’s largest wind energy developer, according to the company’s website.

Central Maine Power Co. is a subsidiary of another affiliated business, Iberdrola USA.

The 7,200 acres the company has leased in Washington County include a small amount of land in Cutler and Jonesboro, according to Copleman.

“We still view this project as very early in the process,” said Copleman. “All we’re really doing is studying the wind at this point.” The fact that two test towers were added this year “is an indication of our optimism but also the fact that we wanted to learn more,” he said.

The time period for collecting and analyzing meteorological data can vary, he said. “Usually we like to have at least a year or two under our belt” before making a decision about a potential project.

“We’re reasonably optimistic,” said Copleman. “We’re still studying the wind. It’s too soon to know definitely that we have an adequate wind resource.”

Atlantic Wind has not submitted a permit application to the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Copleman.

Steve Pressley, chairman of the Whiting Board of Selectmen, was uncertain how much tax revenue the town would stand to gain from a wind farm. The town adopted an ordinance several years ago regulating wind energy projects, he said Thursday.

For example, it prohibits turbines from being located within about 3,500 feet from the nearest dwelling.

Residents of Trescott would find themselves in different circumstances, he noted, since it is part of Washington County’s Unorganized Territory. “I hope somebody helps Trescott,” said Pressley, “because they don’t have much say about it.”

When apprised of Judd’s observation that new wind turbines can reach as tall as a 50-story building, Whiting Selectwoman Janice Bronson said, “Oh, my.”

That height would be prohibited by a town ordinance regulating towers and other structures, she said Thursday. Developers would have to get approval from the town’s planning board and board of selectmen, she noted.

The Washington County Commission does not know enough about the company’s plans at this point, said chairman Chris Gardner on Thursday. Whiting officials would make decisions for their community, he noted, although the commission would be involved in plans for Trescott since it is part of the Unorganized Territory.

“We would want to talk to the developers and understand what the impacts would be,” said Gardner.

A man who owns land in Trescott says he was approached by representatives of Atlantic Wind to lease his property but did not sign the agreement. He provided a copy of the proposed agreement to the Bangor Daily News.

Atlantic Wind offered to pay him $4,000 to $5,000 yearly per megawatt of installed capacity with an annual adjustment of 2.67 percent, according to the proposed agreement The initial term of the lease was 25 years with two renewal periods extending to a total of 45 years.

He also was offered a one-time initial payment of $2,500, and the proposed agreement called for an annual payment of $1,500 during the development phase and $2,000 during the construction phase.

Copeland said that he did not have access this week to his firm’s documents about the leases. But according to Judd, who said he gathered the data from the county Registry of Deeds, Atlantic Wind has obtained leases with 15 property owners for 20 parcels of land in Whiting.

None of the owners lives in Whiting, Judd said. Similarly, Atlantic Wind entered into agreements with six owners of eight parcels of land in Trescott; those owners don’t live in Trescott either, according to Judd.

Atlantic Wind began obtaining the leases in 2010, and the most recent ones were recorded in late 2013, according to Judd.

When asked if it was a tactic of the company to seek leases with landowners who do not live in the area, Copleman laughed. “The effort … to put together a patchwork of landowners focuses on what we think will be the properties that offer the most potential for a wind project.”

If the company moves forward, “we will be very transparent,” he said, and there will be opportunities to communicate with people in the communities and to hear from them.

“At this point we don’t know if we have a viable site,” Copleman said. “We’re studying the winds to try to understand if we’re interested in moving forward.”

“That’s a lot of acreage,” Brad Blake of Scarbrough said Thursday.

“Most (wind energy) projects run anywhere from 500 to a couple thousand acres,” said Blake, chairman of the Citizens Task Force on Wind Power, which opposes wind energy projects in Maine. The largest operating wind power site in Maine, in Kibby in the Boundary Mountains, is 2,367 acres, according to Blake.

If Iberdrola Renewables develops a wind power project in Whiting and Trescott, it would be the largest power project near the coast, said Blake.

“What it seems to me is that with the ever larger turbines they’re using, that any place that is close enough to pick up the coastal wind pattern, they’re going to invade that area,” said Blake.

According to Blake, one of the leased parcels in Trescott is next to the 12,234-acre Cutler Coast Public Lands, a state preserve that is an attraction of the Bold Coast Scenic Byway. The preserve is “second only to Acadia in its grandeur,” said Blake.

Alan Michka of Lexington was the speaker for a second meeting organized by Judd and others on July 23. Michka has been active with Friends of the Highland Mountains, which has opposed wind energy projects in Somerset County. He also has been involved in efforts in the Maine Legislature to give residents of the Unorganized Territory a public hearing process regarding land use planning for wind energy projects.

A third meeting to be held July 30 will feature Gary Campbell of the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, which successfully opposed a proposed wind energy project on Bowers Mountain. The meeting will be held 5:30 p.m. at the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott.

 

CORRECTION:

The time of the July 30 meeting was changed from 7 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

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