OAKFIELD, Maine — More than 60 people gathered here Wednesday to celebrate the groundbreaking of First Wind’s 148 megawatt wind project.
It is the company’s sixth project in Maine and its largest in New England. The Oakfield Wind project will provide $27 million in tax and community benefit payments to the town of Oakfield and surrounding communities over the next 20 years, according to agreements with those municipalities.
David Fowler, First Wind’s director of development for the New England Region, said Wednesday that getting from the first meetings, through the permitting process and putting the first shovel in the ground on the project has taken seven years.
“The people in Oakfield have been really wonderful to work with,” he said. “It’s been a long process, but we are glad we are here.”
Situated about 2.5 miles from the center of the town of Oakfield, the Oakfield Wind farm is being built on the low-lying ridges of the Oakfield Hills. The project will use pre-existing commercial logging roads and infrastructure. Work on the 148 megawatt project will include the installation of 48 Vestas V-112 turbines and will create about 300 direct, full-time jobs during construction, according to the company. It is expected to begin commercial operation by the end of 2015.
The power that will be generated by the project is contracted to be sold to four Massachusetts utilities as part of a 15-year contract, and will generate enough energy to power the equivalent of about 50,000 New England homes.
Lakefront owners in Island Falls, one town away from Oakfield, lost a 2011 Maine Supreme Judicial Court challenge to an earlier, smaller version of First Wind’s project. The neighbors unsuccessfully appealed the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s permitting of the project based on concerns that included visual impact, noise and reduction in land values.
The majority of Oakfield voters, however, were supportive of the project.
In a speech on Wednesday, Town Manager Dale Morris touched on the sometimes heated feelings in the town over the wind power project. But he noted that in the end, residents were able to talk out their differences and “came together as one unit.”
Referring to First Wind’s first community benefit payment of $600,000 to the town earlier this year, Morris added that the town had “already experienced first-hand the economic benefits this project brings to Aroostook County.
“Nearly 90 percent of the funds from First Wind’s first community payment were used for tax relief for town residents,” he said, “and the town will soon be investing property tax dollars into the community’s infrastructure — new road work, a new fire station and other capital improvements.”
Reed and Reed Inc. of Woolwich are partnering with First Wind in the construction of the wind farm.
Once complete, the Oakfield Wind project will increase the total capital expenditures made by First Wind for wind projects sited in Maine to over $1 billion, according to company officials.
The company currently has five operational wind projects in Maine, including the 42 megawatt Mars Hill Wind project in Aroostook County, the 83 megawatt Stetson Wind I and II projects in Washington County, the 60 megawatt Rollins Wind project in Penobscot County, and the 34 megawatt Bull Hill Wind project in Hancock County.
These combined facilities can generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of more than 90,000 households every year, according to company officials.
First Wind also has three wind projects in advanced development, including a 51 megawatt Hancock Wind project in Hancock County, the 48 megawatt Bowers Wind project that straddles Penobscot and Washington counties, and the 186 megawatt Bingham Wind project in Somerset County.