COLUMBIA, Maine — A wind energy firm based in Virginia is proposing to erect 30 turbines in western Washington County, spread out around state-owned public reserved land in Township 18.
A group of camp owners on Schoodic Lake are unhappy with the proposal from Downeast Wind and made their feelings known Thursday evening at a public meeting at the Columbia town office.
Downeast Wind officials said at the meeting that they are considering around 40 sites at the moment, but plan to submit an application to the state for approval of only 33 sites, of which they expect to use only 30. They said they hope to use Vestas V150 turbines for the installation, each of which has a projected peak output of 4.2 megawatts and would stand 650 feet tall at the highest tip of each rotating blade — more than double the height of the Statue of Liberty and almost 200 feet taller than the average wind turbine in the U.S. The entire project would have a production capacity of 126 megawatts.
The turbines would be spread out on three sides of the 7,000-plus acre Great Heath, an area that includes 5,600 acres in Township 18 that are owned and protected by the state. Potential turbine locations identified by Downeast Wind range from Township 19 between Montegail Pond and a decommissioned Air Force backscatter radar array, to the west bank of the Pleasant River in townships 24 and 18, to eight possible sites stretching along Baseline Road in Columbia.
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Robert McKay, a Bangor man who owns a seasonal camp on the north shore of Schoodic Lake — which is split between Columbia, Cherryfield and Township 18 — said that the presence of turbines southeast of the lake in Columbia, roughly 2 to 4 miles from his camp on the lake’s north shore, would have a major impact on his enjoyment of the property.
“Nobody here likes this,” McKay said, referring to roughly 50 people who attended the meeting, many of whom are Schoodic Lake camp owners.
Many of the 100 or so camps on the lake, most of which are on the north shore, have been leased by successive generations of the same families for many years, he said. And many of those families and other camp owners spend time on the nearby Pleasant River, which stretches roughly 20 miles from Beddington to Addison.
“There are plenty of places where you [will be able to] see the turbines on the river,” McKay said. “It is going to ruin a generational way of life.”
Officials with Downeast Wind, a subsidiary of Apex Lean Energy in Charlottesville, Virginia, said they have spent years refining their plans, which at one point included potentially 57 turbines and in 2014 centered mainly on Columbia and Cherryfield. The company has lined up lease agreements with multiple property owners, including Cherryfield Foods, for all of the sites where turbines would be erected.
Paul Williamson, senior development manager for Downeast Wind, said that all of the proposed sites exceed property line setbacks required by Columbia and the state, and stressed that the company has made an effort to contact all the camp owners around Schoodic Lake to hear their concerns — though some of the camp owners responded that they have only been contacted in recent weeks.
If the project is approved and developed, Williamson said, it would provide $7.5 million in tax revenue and other benefits to the town of Columbia and $11.5 million in tax revenue and benefits for Washington County over the projected 25-year lifespan of the project. Downeast Wind also anticipates spending $85 million in eastern Maine just to get the project permitted and built, he said.
Williamson said the project also will provide benefits to the broader region by generating clean, renewable energy.
“There’s a very good wind resource here,” he said. “These projects are needed throughout New England. There’s a very high demand.”
Williamson said he expects to meet with Washington County commissioners on Jan. 9 to seek the county’s approval of a financial agreement that would include annual payments of $460,000 to the county, among other benefits. He said he hopes to submit a development application to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in late February or March.
He said he expects the permitting process to take a year. If the project is approved, some ground work likely would begin in late 2021 but the project likely would not be completed until 2022.