October 27, 2013

Big county, big ambitions for wind in Maine

Aroostook County becomes a major hub for wind power development.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

Today's poll: Wind farms

Are two proposed wind farms in Aroostook County a positive development for the state?

Yes

No

View Results

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The Mars Hill wind farm, seen Wednesday, October 16, 2013, stretches the length of Mars Hill Mountain.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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From the back steps of her father’s camp on Number Nine Lake in Township 9, Range 3, Diane Libby looks out over the landscape that she worries will be adversely affected by a $500 million wind turbine project – the largest in New England – proposed by EDP Renewables. At top, turbines populate the ridges of Mars Hill Mountain in eastern Aroostook County, where First Wind built a large-scale project in 2007.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Bridgewater’s town manager, Jill Rusty, said there’s not much awareness yet among the 600 residents. She met briefly with Chapman and expects the company to contact selectmen soon.

Keith Kingsbury, a selectman and potato farmer, said he hopes the project will bring some financial benefits to town. Maybe EDP will upgrade some roads, or lease a building. Kingsbury also has a camp on Number Nine Lake. He recognizes some opposition there, but expects widespread support in town.

“If there’s going to be a little financial boost and it’s not in your backyard, why not?” he said.

EDP has said the project will create 300 construction jobs and a dozen permanent positions. It also has leased 58,000 acres for turbine sites and roads and transmission easements.

Wind power developers in Maine also have to fund an annual community benefits package, a payout based on turbine generating capacity. It’s too early to know how that package will come together for Number Nine, but the company has pledged to work closely with local residents during the development process.

“We expect to do a lot of listening over the coming months to make sure that our project benefits communities and brings much-needed, clean, renewable energy to New England,” Chapman said.

'STABILIZING' FACTOR IN OAKFIELD

That process already has played out in Oakfield, where the dynamics are very different.

First Wind’s project is largely within town limits. That gave Oakfield an opportunity to be a vigorous participant and negotiator in the process. The result was a community benefits package that will pump a total of $25 million into the town over 20 years. Money will go to road construction, a new public safety building and new firetrucks, among other things. Another part of the package will provide tax relief to 230 families. This is on top of 300 or so construction jobs.

The money is a big deal in a town of 700, where there hasn’t been enough tax revenue to pave town roads for years. Oakfield prospered when the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad hauled potatoes and lumber out of The County. Now the boom times exist only in old photos at the Oakfield Railroad Museum, in the former train station. The largest private employer is Katahdin Forest Products, a family business known for its innovative cedar log cabins.

“This is stabilizing the town,” said Dale Morris, the town manager. “Done the right way, it’s setting Oakfield up for quite some time.”

To illustrate the need, Morris and Jim Sholler, a former selectman who chaired the town’s wind farm review committee, showed off the condition of the town’s 60-year-old fire barn. Firetrucks just barely fit inside. Upstairs, Morris jumped on the floor. The springy rebound suggested the floor’s days of holding a crew of first responders are numbered.

Morris and Sholler are proud of the town’s deal with First Wind. But Oakfield also benefited from the passage of time, and the experience at Mars Hill. Some of the 28 turbines there are close enough to homes to bother residents. Some homeowners have reported sleep problems and other health issues. Oakfield wanted to minimize similar controversy.

The town created a local wind farm review committee, hired a sound consultant and negotiated an operations ordinance. State law requires a setback from wind turbines designed to keep noise below a certain level. Where that level would be exceeded, First Wind negotiated sound easements with roughly 20 people. They will be paid an undisclosed sum each year for 20 years, in exchange for living closer to the towers. In some instances, First Wind couldn’t reach a deal with landowners, and had to move turbines to a different location.

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Additional Photos

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Jim Sholler, a former Oakfield selectman who chaired the town’s wind farm review committee, says some of the money the town receives as part of its deal with First Wind will go toward purchasing a new fire truck and building a new station.

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Dave Fowler, New England development director for First Wind, walks along a ridge in the Oakfield Hills this month. Thanks in part to a lucrative community benefits package, Oakfield has embraced plans by the company to build a 50-turbine wind farm scheduled to be online by 2015.

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Rodney Jones of Fort Fairfield stands on the dock of his wife’s family’s camp on Number Nine Lake in Township 9, Range 3 in central Aroostook County. Jones said he opposes a wind farm proposed by EDP Renewables. “Nobody wants to see windmills along the lake,” he said.

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Town Manager Dale Morris says he’s proud of Oakfield’s deal with First Wind. “This is stabilizing the town,” he said. “Done the right way, it’s setting Oakfield up for quite some time.” For years, there hasn’t been enough revenue to pave the roads.

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Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer The Mars Hill wind farm, active since 2007, offers Aroostook County residents a glimpse of a large-scale operation. Officials with First Wind say the lessons from Mars Hill led the company to increase turbine setbacks and seek more community input.



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Today's poll: Wind farms

Are two proposed wind farms in Aroostook County a positive development for the state?

Yes

No

View Results