Energy company seeks permits for wind testing towers in Somerset County

Posted March 18, 2015, at 4:43 p.m.

MISERY TOWNSHIP, Maine — The company that recently received permission to build the Bingham Wind Project has its sights set on another area of northern Somerset County.

Somerset Wind LLC — a subsidiary of First Wind — has applied for permission to install six meteorological towers in Chase Stream, Misery, Misery Gore and Johnson Mountain townships, according to Samantha Horn-Olsen, planning manager for the Land Use Planning Commission. First Wind was recently purchased by SunEdison, a global renewable energy corporation.

Horn-Olsen described the towers as “structures used to gather meteorological data such as average wind speed and direction. But they’re temporary structures and won’t stay up forever.”

The structures, also known as met towers, are 197 feet high, 8 inches in diameter and painted gray, according to the application.

Horn-Olsen added that the towers still have to meet the same criteria as any other temporary structure.

“Because the towers are on large parcels and quite a distance from land boundaries, there were no abutters to notify in this case. We’ve now sent it out to other agencies that would have an interest in the project,” she said.

According to the application prepared by Stantec, a consulting firm based in Topsham, the towers will be used “to collect wind and weather data at the site to assess wind speed, direction and other factors related to determining the potential wind power project viability for this area. The relevant parcel is owned by Plum Creek Maine Timberlands LLC.

The application also states that the site is located within the Moosehead Conservation Easement where “studies of wind speed, wind direction and other meteorological data is considered a specified land use to which Plum Creek has the right to undertake on the property.”

First Wind’s application has drawn fire from the Friends of Maine’s Mountains, an advocacy group opposing wind power, because of the four unorganized territories’ proximity to Moosehead Lake.

“When Bingham [wind power] got real close to the Appalachian Trail, we were concerned,” said Chris O’Neil, whose government relations firm represents Friends of Maine’s Mountains. “This application is dealing with an area right in the North Woods, and it’s getting real serious.”

The 185-megawatt Bingham project will have turbines located on property in Bingham, Abbot, Parkman, Mayfield Township and Kingsbury Plantation. It has reached agreements to make for 20 years annual payments of $106,900 to Bingham, $20,000 to Moscow, Abbot and Parkman, and $176,000 to Kingsbury Plantation.

The Bingham project is owned by Blue Sky West and Blue Sky West II, both former subsidiaries of wind power developer First Wind. SunEdison closed its $2.4 billion purchase of the Massachusetts-based First Wind in January, adding wind developments to its portfolio of solar power projects around the country.

O’Neil said that Friends of Maine’s Mountains has known for a long time that “Plum Creek had left open the possibility that wind power would come to their land. They’re not in the wind turbine development business, but the economics make sense to them. They can get a lot more return on investment from hosting turbines than cutting wood.”

Horn-Olsen said, however, that just because First Wind puts up meteorological towers in an area “doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily build wind turbines there. If we grant the permits for the towers, it doesn’t have any relation to the permitting process for a wind project.”

O’Neil agreed.

“But it doesn’t hurt to get educated early and organize early,” he said. “I spend a lot of time in the Moosehead Lake region, and people are used to their views and dark skies.”

Public comments are still being taken on the application through the Bangor LUPC office, but Horn-Olsen advises anyone with input should call or email the agency soon.

Call Karen Bolstridge at 941-4042 or email Karen.Bolstridge@maine.gov.

BDN writer Darren Fishell contributed to this report.

 

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