REDINGTON TOWNSHIP – The proposal to build a 30-turbine wind farm atop 1,000 acres in Maine’s western mountains is likely be one of the most important and difficult decisions the seven members of the state’s Land Use Regulation Commission will make in coming years.
The agency, which functions as the zoning and planning board for the state’s nearly 10 million acres of unorganized townships, is set to begin a series of public hearings on the project in August.
Among other issues, commissioners will have to weigh whether the proposed zoning change for Redington Pond Range and Black Nubble mountains, proposed by Yarmouth-based Endless Energy, will be in the best interest of Maine.
Proponents of the project promise the generation of non-fossil fuel electricity will help prevent as much as 800,000 pounds of air pollution per day. That’s the equivalent of taking 26,000 cars off the road.
But opponents of the project say the construction and placement of a wind farm on these mountains, near the Sugarloaf/USA ski resort, and in places less than a mile from the Appalachian Trail, would be detrimental to scenic mountain views and to wildlife and plant species – some rare – that inhabit the area.
LURC takes a trip
Most of the LURC commissioners have never seen a wind turbine up close, so all seven traveled to Vermont last month, along with agency Director Catherine Carroll and senior planner Marcia Spencer-Famous, to view the Searsburg Wind Farm. The tour included an aerial sweep of the Vermont project.
Harley Lee of Endless Energy in Yarmouth, who joined with the California-based Edison Mission Group to form Maine Mountain Power to build the Maine projects, suggested the tour to LURC because of the proximity to Maine and the similar north-south ridge line between his proposal and the existing operation in Searsburg.
LURC Commissioner Rebecca Kurtz “had never seen a wind tower, ever,” she said, and thought the visit to the Vermont facility was helpful. She learned the turbines don’t make much noise and the towers proposed for Maine will use technology more advanced than used on the towers in Vermont.
“This was the first time I really looked at an actual installation of wind turbines,” Commissioner Steve Wight said. Familiar with lattice towers and radio towers, he said “I liked the way they looked on the landscape from afar.”
He found it “interesting to see how much earth had to be disturbed for the roads and transmission line,” and felt in a better position to discuss the aspects of the project after the visit.
Kurtz said the disturbance of earth required for the Searsburg project was something the commission would examine. “There are some distinct differences between the Searsburg site and the Redington site that may result in some pretty significant differences in impacts,” she said. “The soils are very different in that alpine soils (on Redington and Black Nubble) are really fragile and thin and can erode really quickly. Searsburg is on fractured bedrock, and there is no tree line.”
Carving out access
According to Martha Staskus, vice president of Vermont Environmental Research Associates, a 35-foot wide access road was needed to get a crane and the turbines up to the Vermont farm site. Vegetation was allowed to grow back to 16 feet wide. The concrete foundation for the turbines are 36 feet square by 4 feet thick, but were back-filled so only a 16-foot-square pad can be seen.
At the Redington site, Lee said, the access road travel width will be 12 feet, and wider through the corners.
“That will be sufficient to get turbines, blades, towers and crane components up the mountain,” he said. “After construction, we’ll maintain a 12-foot-wide area and allow wider areas to revegetate. The access roads are 1.8 miles long at Redington; 1.3 miles at Black Nubble.
“Once the crane components are trucked up to the ridge, the large cranes are assembled and then travel from site-to-site on a 32-foot-wide travel surface.” The ridge road on Redington is 3.6 miles long; on Black Nubble, 4.9 miles long.
Lee says the bases will probably be larger than those in Searsburg but will be covered so that only a pedestal is visible.
The Searsburg facility’s 11 turbines stand between 2,700 and 2,900 feet in elevation, with the turbines working at the higher elevation producing about 20 percent more energy than the other towers.
According to Staskus, elevation matters. “The higher you go, the higher the wind speeds.”
The height of the proposed towers falls below Federal Aviation Administration rules for required lighting, but no strobes will be used at night. Half of the towers at the site will have red lights that slowly ramp up and down.
“The newer machines are taller because the wind resource increases,” Staskus said.
In a phone interview, Lee said the larger turbines make “good economic sense. When you double the size of the turbine, you get four times the energy at twice the cost of the old turbines.”
Staskus said the newer turbines can also produce energy at a lower wind speed. Even though they might be moving, the blades don’t produce power unless the wind is fast enough. The new machines will produce at 8 to 9 mph, Staskus said, “and they can maintain maximum output at a higher speed.”
When rotation reaches 55 mph, the blades stop turning to prevent damage to turbines in high winds. The towers are expected to produce electricity about 85 percent of the time they are operational, producing less if they ice up in winter.
Lee plans to sell the power to Constellation NewEnergy, making it available to western Maine. “We want to give first dibs to the towns and schools,” he said.
Reaction is mixed
The Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Maine Appalachian Trail Club have all spoken out against the proposed project because of the effect on the environment and the change in the landscape.
Jeff Thaler, chair of Portland law firm Bernstein Shur’s Environmental and Natural Resources Practice Group and Lee’s legal counsel, said Endless Energy has heard from several hikers who support the wind farm and believe that a change in the view is better than the adverse effects of fossil fuel-powered energy.
Although sure there will be some impact on habitat, Gwen Augusten of Phillips supports the Redington project because she believes a sacrifice needs to be made somewhere.
“I consider myself an environmentalist, and unless we are going to stop using power, something has to be done,” she said. “If we’re going to use power, and everybody does, this has the least impact. If I had to look at them out my window, I wouldn’t mind. The alternative is pretty grim.”
Mary Lou Melber of Freeman Township, a member of the Friends of the Western Mountains, sees nothing attractive about the turbines.
“I see no need for them to invade or violate those mountains,” she said. “That’s a natural beauty of this area. It draws people – visitors and people who want to live here. And people retire here. If someone is buying property here, a mountain view is what the people always seem to want.”
Melber said there is no “dire need” for electricity in Maine. “We transport an abundance out of state,” she said. “I’m not against wind power, but that is not a cost-effective place to put it in. If Maine needs power, it would be cheapest to get hydro power, which is also renewable.”
By Jami Badershall,Staff Writer
9 July 2006
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