AURORA, Maine — About a dozen people showed up, but no one offered any comment when state officials held a public hearing Thursday evening at the local elementary school about a planned commercial-scale wind farm.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection held the brief hearing so the public could have the chance to weigh in on a proposal by First Wind to amend its approved project to erect more than a dozen turbines in Townships 16 and 22. The company wants to amend its Maine DEP permit for the Hancock Wind project so it has the option to erect 574-foot-tall turbines instead of the 512-foot-tall turbines approved by the DEP.
The state granted approval of the Hancock Wind project in July 2013. As approved, the project would result in the installation of 17 total turbines, each with a 3-megawatt capacity, on Spectacle Pond and Schoppe ridges in Township 22 and east of Bull Hill Ridge to the immediate south in Township 16.
Two people who own property in the vicinity of the project site filed appeals against the Maine DEP, but those appeals were dismissed last December by the Board of Environmental Protection.
According to state officials, the taller turbines would increase the anticipated power generation capacity of the project from 54 megawatts to 56 megawatts. The project is expected to include construction of an operations and maintenance building in Aurora and, if amended, would allow up to five 116.5-meter meteorological towers instead of the 105-meter towers previously approved.
State officials said the power generated would flow to an expanded substation at the company’s nearby 19-turbine Bull Hill Wind project constructed in Township 16 in 2012.
No one spoke for or against the proposed amendment at the hearing Thursday, but comments still can be submitted to Maine DEP via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, according to DEP project manager Maria Eggett. Comments also can be mailed to Maria Eggett, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, 106 Hogan Road, Suite 6, Bangor, Maine 04401.
Eggett said there is no deadline for submitting comments on proposed amendments and said she is not sure when the department may issue a decision on the proposal.
Though no one spoke against or in favor of the proposed amendment at the hearing, earlier this month Friends of Maine’s Mountains sent a letter to DEP objecting to First Wind proposals in Hancock County and in Piscataquis and Somerset counties east of Bingham. For each of those projects, the company’s financial capacity is “doubtful,” the decommissioning costs are “grossly underestimated” and the proposed tangible benefits to surrounding communities “need stronger scrutiny,” the group wrote.
Reached by phone on Friday, Brad Blake of the Citizens Task Force on Wind Power said the Hancock Wind project never should have been issued permits in the first place. He said the turbines on Bull Hill, like others throughout Maine, are an “eyesore” and do not perform up to promised power generation levels.
Putting up more tall turbines in Hancock County will have a “horrendous impact” on views from Acadia National Park, which is about 20 miles away, and on nearby state land at Schoodic and Tunk mountains, which are less than 10 miles away, he said.
“It’s a giveaway of the natural and scenic assets of the state of Maine to the special interest wind industry,” Blake said.
Earlier this month, Hancock County officials approved financial agreements with First Wind that are expected to generate nearly $10 million in revenue for the county in taxes and other benefits over the next 30 years. County officials have said the money will go toward funding projects such as the acquisition and development of land in Fletcher’s Landing; promotion of recreational opportunities and environmental protection; improvement of roads, communications and fire protection; and others.
According to David Fowler, First Wind’s director of development for the Northeast, the company hopes to begin construction on the project in early 2015 and have the site operating and connected to the grid in 2016.
Fowler has said the company is pleased with the performance of the Bull Hill site and is interested in developing more sites in northern Hancock County, beyond what DEP has approved so far. Weaver Wind, another First Wind subsidiary, is looking at possible sites in Eastbrook, he said, and has approached the town about increasing its turbine height limit to 600 feet so it could erect 572-foot-tall turbines there.
Fowler said First Wind has not yet submitted anything for approval to DEP for the Weaver Wind project.
“We’re trying to pull that together as we speak,” he said recently.