The Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued First Wind of Massachusetts a permit Tuesday to build a 40-turbine industrial wind site for $130 million on Rollins Mountain in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.
“The Department finds that the applicant has demonstrated that the proposed project will provide significant tangible benefits to the host community and surrounding area,” according to the department’s 64-page report on the project, which was issued Tuesday.
Lincoln Town Council chairman Steve Clay hopes to see construction begin soon.
The project would generate an estimated $10.4 million to Lincoln over the project’s 30-year life span, town officials have said. Estimates of the project’s returns to the other municipalities were unavailable Tuesday.
“I think it’s great,” Clay said. “I think it will bring in the tax revenue for the town, like on the [tax increment financing package] we voted on, but the construction process itself will bring a lot of money to town.”
First Wind has permits from the four towns, but DEP’s approval doesn’t give the project the green light just yet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing First Wind’s application, spokesman John Lamontagne said. The company also seeks financing for construction, which they hope will start this year.
“This is clearing a major hurdle for us and we are excited about it. We appreciate DEP’s thorough review,” Lamontagne said. “It’s getting near the end, but we still have hurdles to clear. This is a marathon, not a sprint, to use a bad expression.”
A citizens group opposing the project, the Friends of Lincoln Lakes, is already in civil court. It seeks a rejection of the Lincoln Appeals Board’s February decision dismissing the group’s right to appeal the town planning board’s approval of the wind farm.
“I am not surprised at all,” group member Harry Epp of Lincoln said of DEP’s decision. “The governor is deciding who gets what and he has already decided that wind turbines are going into Maine, so DEP is just automatically approving all of them.
“We are pretty disgusted with how the state has handled it,” he added. “They are not investigating it at all. They are just issuing boilerplate approvals. … I am sure we will appeal.”
Proponents have praised First Wind as a conscientious creator of wind power, saying the Lincoln Lakes project would create as much as 60 megawatts of pollution-free electricity in peak winds.
The Friends group contends that the turbines would lower land values and threaten human and animal health with light flicker and low-decibel sound; disrupt the pastoral nature of Rollins; and typically generate a fraction of their capacity.
The group argued its case to DEP, but the agency largely dismissed it for lack of evidence.
Of the two nonproject dwellings that will be affected by light flicker, according to the DEP report, one would see less than 17 hours of flicker a year. The second would get 40 hours annually “if no reductions occurred due to cloud cover, fog, wind direction, or vegetation.”
EnRad Consulting, a third-party evaluator DEP hired to review First Wind’s noise assessment, found that the company’s work “is essentially reasonable and technically correct according to standard engineering practices” and state regulations. It “yields reasonably conservative estimates for hourly sound levels,” the department’s report states.
EnRad rejected Friends arguments that turbine sounds and subsonic vibrations would disrupt sleep, saying that Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention “finds no evidence in peer-reviewed medical and public health literature of adverse health effects from the kinds of noise and vibrations associated with wind turbines other than occasional reports of annoyances.”
However, EnRad said First Wind must pay for and “implement an operational compliance assessment methodology for use during very selective, meteorological and background sound conditions” to ensure its compliance with state regulations.
If the project breaches its limits of 55 decibels at daytime and 45 dBA nightly, First Wind would have 60 days to submit a remediation plan or face fines. Epp found it unlikely that this requirement would be enforced.
“They are going to write their own rules,” he said.