EASTPORT, Maine — The Eastport Port Authority today hopes to show it can compete with other state ports, as well as Boston and New York, when it welcomes the first shipment of wind energy equipment the port has ever handled, officials said Wednesday.
The 478-foot British cargo ship the Jade C. will unload as many as 104 General Electric wind turbine blades shipped from Santos, Brazil, starting early today. Sixty will be trucked to Chester for First Wind of Massachusetts’ proposed Rollins Mountain wind project in Burlington, Lee, Lincoln and Winn.
The rest are going to industrial wind sites in Nova Scotia and Mansfield, Pa., said Russ Selwood, agency manager for Federal Marine Terminals Inc., which operates the Eastport terminal.
With the port’s largest customer, Domtar Corp., idling its Baileyville pulp mill indefinitely because of the poor global economy — layoffs start Tuesday — port officials see great potential in the shipment, said Chris Gardner, the port authority’s executive director.
“It is not lost on anybody that this is an audition for us,” Gardner said Wednesday. “We feel very confident that we will do a great job. We believe that once GE sees our efforts, we will be well positioned. We think we are strategically well placed to handle many more such loads in the future. We could be importing windmill project materials from all over New England and the region.”
At 125-feet-long, each blade costs about $40,000, said Matt Kearns, First Wind’s vice president of development for New England. Three blades typically spin each 1.5-megawatt turbine.
The largest wind-energy producer in Maine, First Wind operates two wind farms in the state — a 42-megawatt facility on Mars Hill and a 57-megawatt facility on Stetson Mountain in Danforth — and has several others in advanced development or seeking permits.
Rollins Mountain will be a 60-megawatt facility, if it gets permits; Stetson II is a 25-megawatt facility slated for Stetson Mountain; and Longfellow is a 40-megawatt facility planned for Rumford, according to the company’s Web site, www.firstwind.com. Several other projects are in early development.
Chester town officials agreed on Monday to allow the Rollins Mountain blades to be held at the Chester fairgrounds in exchange for a percentage of the property tax paid on the blades if the equipment is still there in April 2010, Kearns said.
First Wind’s Rollins Mountain project still awaits permits from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Its permit with Lincoln is also under appeal in civil court. Kearns said the company accepted the shipments now because it had to.
“Permits and turbine deliveries don’t always match,” he said.
First Wind previously had its equipment shipped into the U.S. through the Port of Albany, N.Y., but it encouraged GE officials to meet with the Eastport Port Authority to further localize the benefits of the wind company’s projects, Kearns said.
“It’s further evidence of how Eastport can serve the region,” Kearns said. “It can become an international service port for the wind industry. I think there is a lot of potential wind development in Canada that has really been adversely affected by the economic downturn.
“Eastport presents a great alternative or option as that industry comes back,” he added. “It’s only a matter of time for Eastport to grow into this role as a service center for the wind industry and we are happy to help make that happen.”
The Baileyville mill had an annual hardwood pulp production capacity of 398,000 metric tons, and most of what it produced has been shipped out of Estes Head in Eastport to foreign markets. Last year was a record year for the cargo port’s activities, as 376,873 metric tons of cargo were shipped over its piers, an 8,000-ton increase over 2007.
In fact, the port has had record-setting growth in seven of the past eight years, having grown more than 160 percent in this decade, port authority officials have said. But the port’s anchor has been Domtar, partnering with the company and its predecessor, Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific Corp., for more than 30 years, and with Domtar closing down, port officials have been aggressively pursuing new business.
“We are facing a tremendous downturn,” Gardner said. “So the timing of this is really good.”
Another shipment of blades is expected in June, he said.