The state has begun reviewing an application to develop a wind farm in northern Hancock County and is weighing whether to schedule a public hearing on the proposal, which three years ago generated concerns about its potential to kill birds and bats.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection determined in mid-November that the application from Longroad Energy to develop a 22-turbine wind farm in Eastbrook and Osborn is complete, Mark Bergeron, director of the DEP’s bureau of land resources, said Monday. Part of the related infrastructure for the project would be located in Aurora and in Townships 16 and 22.
By statute, the DEP is supposed to render a decision in six months, but the review process could take longer if the project proves controversial or if state officials have concerns that result in Longroad amending its proposal, Bergeron said. Because of the complexity of commercial-scale wind farms, the DEP often takes eight to 10 months to review such applications before it issues a decision, he said.
“That could extend things,” Bergeron said.
Three years ago, when another developer was seeking state approval for the same project, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife had come out against the proposal because of the harm the department said it would cause to birds and bats.
The project previously was proposed by developers First Wind and then by SunEdison, which withdrew the application in 2015. The current developer, the top management team of which is composed of former First Wind executives, purchased the development rights to the project out of SunEdison’s 2016 bankruptcy.
A Longroad spokesman has said the company has been in discussions with DIF&W and is submitting detailed updated data to the state on how existing turbines in the area have affected birds and bats that SunEdison did not have access to three years ago. Longroad is willing to consider some conditions on the project in order to minimize the impact on birds and bats, such as limiting the use of the turbines during nighttime migration periods in the spring and fall, the spokesman added.
Bergeron said that the DEP has received a request to hold a public hearing on the proposal but has not yet decided whether to hold one. He said the department is likely to schedule one or more public meetings on the project even if it does not hold a formal public hearing.
Of the 22 proposed turbines, 14 would be in Osborn and eight would be in Eastbrook. Each of the turbines would be nearly 600 feet tall from ground to the highest tip of each blade, and would be rated for 3.3 megawatts of generating capacity for a total power capacity of nearly 73 megawatts.
Longroad also would build an operations center near Route 9 in Aurora and would connect to the grid at an Emera substation near the 34.5-megawatt Bull Hill wind farm in Township 16, which was developed by First Wind but now is owned and operated by TerraForm Power.
That project consists of 19 turbines that are each 476 feet tall. Hancock Wind, an abutting 51-megawatt wind farm that is owned and operated by Novatus Energy, consists of 17 turbines that are each 574 feet tall, according to Vox. The Weaver Wind project would increase the number of grid-scale turbines in northeastern Hancock County to 58.
Last week, the Land Use Planning Commission certified the proposal as an allowed use in Osborn and in Townships 16 and 22, which are among the dozens of townships and plantations in rural Maine that have been designated as expedited wind permitting areas.
While the DEP is reviewing the application, the LUPC will conduct a simultaneous review of aspects of the application that do not fall under the DEP’s purview, such as the land division history of where the turbines would be erected, setbacks, lot size, lighting, signage, vehicle access and parking, among other things, said Stacie Beyer, chief planner for LUPC.
If the LUPC determines that the proposal meets these requirements, it will issue a certification of completeness, which Longroad must obtain before it can begin construction, she said.