EASTPORT, Maine — The large turbine blades for the Rollins Mountain wind project near Lincoln and other wind projects in the United States and Canada arrived at the Estes Head Cargo Terminal on Thursday morning, bringing with them a ray of hope for Washington County’s economic future.
The British cargo ship Jade C arrived at the 600-foot Estes Head pier in the early morning hours Thursday and longshoremen began unloading the 108 blades by midmorning.
Sixty of those blades are bound for the Rollins Mountain project site in the towns of Burlington, Lincoln, Lee and Winn, according to Matt Kearns, vice president of business development in New England for First Wind, the Massachusetts-based company that plans to build the 60-megawatt facility.
The remainder of the turbines, built by General Electric and shipped from Santos, Brazil, will be taken to projects in Nova Scotia and Pennsylvania. Longshoremen made quick work of unloading the 125-foot blades, each weighing between 13,000 and 17,000 pounds. Working efficiently, crews used two cranes to lift the blades — crated in pairs for the sea journey — off the deck of the vessel and onto waiting flat-bed trucks. Less than five minutes after the blades touched down on the flatbed, the crews had them secured and they were on their way.
The only delays early in the project came in waiting for the trucks to return.
Chris Gardner, executive director of the Eastport Port Authority, said he hoped to have the ship unloaded by the end of the day. The oversized loads cannot travel after dark, however, so the process may continue into today.
Although the load of blades on deck was an impressive sight, shipping company officials said there were even more blades stowed in the ship’s cargo holds.
On Thursday, the blades were taken just a few miles down the road to a gated area at the Eastport airport. There they will be recrated individually before being taken to their final destinations.
The arrival of the turbine blades provides a short-term boost for the pier workers at a time when business from the port’s main customer, the Domtar mill in Baileyville, has dried up because the mill is closing. But, if the process goes well, Gardner said, Eastport could become the port of entry for wind power components for Maine and the region.
He stressed that Kearns and First Wind had convinced General Electric to deliver the blades through Eastport as a trial run for potential future shipments. “Everyone says that we’re at the end of the line; but some of these blades are going to Nova Scotia and some are going to Pennsylvania. If you draw a line between the two, we’re not at the end, we’re in the middle,” Gardner said. “We’re very well-positioned here. I don’t think anyone doubts that this is an audition. With the operations at the pier, I think we have a lot to offer this industry.”
The port has aggressively pursued other customers to replace Domtar’s business, and Gardner said he hopes that parts and equipment for future wind projects in Washington County, and other areas of the state and country, could be a big part of that business.
The port’s schedule shows another shipload of blades is supposed to arrive from Brazil in June. Eastport City Manager Bud Finch noted that the port is a key part of the city’s economic development plan that involves a three-pronged agenda of shipping, aquaculture and tourism.
While the region has watched traditional industries disappear, he said, the Eastport area is working to reinvigorate the economy in Washington County by being unique. The delivery of the blades is part of developing a “niche port” for the area, he said. “This is a great day for us,” Finch said.
Meanwhile, First Wind recently received approval of the project from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, but still awaits local permits and approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project faces some local opposition, but Kearns expressed optimism that the company would overcome those hurdles and that construction would begin this summer or fall. Work could begin as early as July 1. Although the permits are still pending, the company had to accept delivery of the turbine blades when GE was ready to ship them.
Kearns said he was pleased to be working in Washington County and said the $130 million project will provide a boost to Maine’s economy and bring wind energy to the state.
“This is a $130 million capital investment in this state,” he said. “You don’t have a lot of those kinds of projects in Maine right now. We’re ready to put people to work.”
Pat DeFillipp, a senior project manager with Reed & Reed of Woolwich, the lead contractor for the wind turbine project, also worked on the wind project at Stetson Mountain in western Maine. He said that of the $65 million invested in that project, $50 million was spent in Maine. At peak employment, about 150 people worked on that project, 97 percent of them from Maine. Approximately 100 Maine businesses benefited from that project.
The Rollins Mountain project also is expected to employ as many as 150 workers during the course of construction.
“This is a new and exciting time,” DeFillipp said. “We have a clean, inflationproof energy source that will help ensure the security of our electricity supply without burning fossil fuel.”
The construction of the 40 turbines will take about six months from the time work starts, Kearns said. Crews will be able to work through the winter months, so even if construction doesn’t begin until late summer or fall, the project should be on line early next year.