Aroostook County windmill parts driven 100 miles away for storage

Posted Feb. 23, 2015, at 7:35 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 24, 2015, at 12:50 p.m.

SEARSPORT, Maine — Some giant windmill components received an escort Monday from the Maine State Police as they were transported by road 150 miles south from the Canadian border near Houlton to the Mack Point cargo port in Searsport.

However, the parts for 48 towers are not destined to be loaded onto a ship once they get to the coast. Instead, the components will just winter over in Searsport, according to Jim Therriault of Sprague Energy, the company that owns the Mack Point Marine Intermodal Cargo Terminal.

In early May, the windmill parts will be loaded up again on specialty trailers and hit the highway to return to Aroostook County. Their ultimate destination is Oakfield — less than 20 miles from Houlton.

“There is quite a lot to it,” Therriault said of moving the turbine components. “The routes have to be planned out. [Police] escorts have to be arranged.”

Oakfield is the site of a 148-megawatt, $360 million wind project developed by First Wind, the North American wind energy company that has just been sold for $2.4 billion to Missouri-based SunEdison.

John Lamontagne, a SunEdison spokesman, said Monday that the long, circuitous journey of the turbine components, which were manufactured in Canada, is necessary because the Oakfield site is now under construction and there’s not a storage location there.

Other windmill components also will be coming to Maine from Denmark by ship, he said. The first ship carrying windmill blades and generators is expected to dock at Mack Point on Wednesday night.

“In early May, we will be trucking all those components up to Oakfield,” Lamontagne said.

Therriault said the majority of the tower components will come to Mack Point via the Central Maine & Quebec Railway from Canada.

Houlton Town Manager Butch Asselin said Monday that in the past, First Wind had stored turbine components at the Houlton International Airport, using their own security to keep them safe. But the company hasn’t done that in at least a year and a half, he said.

When the oversized components are transported by roadway as they make their way to Maine’s wind farms, they usually require a police escort.

“They need lots of room,” Asselin said.

Brad Blake of the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power, a group that aims to stop industrial wind in Maine, said Monday that he found the journey of the windmill components to be “baffling.”

“There’s plenty of room in Oakfield to do a laydown yard,” he said. “There’s always the possibility, of course, that with the merger, these components would be shipped out from the port of Searsport and not brought back to Oakfield. If that were true, I would say hurray.”

Lamontagne emphasized that the turbines will be erected in Oakfield as soon as the ground and weather conditions allow.

Ground was broken last September for the wind project in Oakfield, which is expected to begin commercial operation by the end of this year. It will be situated on the low-lying ridges of the Oakfield Hills and the power it generates is going to be sold to four Massachusetts utilities through a 15-year contract. The project is expected to make enough energy to power the equivalent of 50,000 homes.

Not everyone is supportive of the Oakfield wind project, which has taken more than seven years to plan and permit.

Earlier this month, opponents asked a federal judge to withdraw the project’s permit and require additional review to determine if it harms endangered Atlantic salmon.

People who own camps in the area and nonprofit groups Protect Our Lakes and the Forest Ecology Network in 2013 sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior over the 50-turbine farm. U.S. District Court Judge Jon Levy said on Feb. 12 that he would consider the case and issue a written decision.

 

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