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A tall order

A “little city” employing more than 150 people has sprung up over the last few months just outside Ellsworth as turbine towers for a $630 million wind farm begin dotting the landscape.

At the 15-acre construction site for the Twin Groves Wind Farm, just a mile north of Ellsworth, concrete workers stay busy loading up trucks at the on-site cement plant.

Large spools of black underground cable line up behind rows of white office trailers, ready for use. More than 53 miles of underground cable will be used in the first phase of the project, according to Horizon Wind Energy project development manager Bill Whitlock.

“It’s a little city. It requires a lot of coordination,” Whitlock said of organizing multiple construction crews. “Everyone tries to stay out of everyone else’s way.” With almost all of the 120 foundations poured for the first phase, cranes began standing up three of the 260-foot tall towers Wednesday. Each turbine foundation is 66 feet wide and nine feet deep and contains more than 40 truckloads of concrete.

By the end of next week the first of 120 towers should be erected within a 30-square-mile area between the communities of Arrowsmith, Ellsworth and Saybrook. When phase two is completed, 240 turbines will be spread out about 1,000 feet from each other over 22,000 acres of farmland. About 250 acres of farmland will be put out of use.

“We should be partially operational and generating electricity by December,” Whitlock said. “If we have to we will bring in more resources to stay on schedule.”

Because rainy days have delayed construction, crews are now working seven days a week to keep the project moving forward.

Whitlock said the goal is to have all of the foundations poured by November and continue to erect towers over the winter months as well as fine tune the working turbines.

The project began five years ago, when Horizon began studying wind data in the area. Whitlock said wind speeds of more than 80 mph were recorded.

The towers begin producing electricity at 6 mph and are at maximum output between 22 and 55 mph. After 55 mph, generators go into a parking mode to prevent stress on working parts until wind speeds lessen.

From the ground to the top of the 130-foot-long blades, the turbines’ height is equivalent to the length of a football field.

With 240 turbines planned to generate 400 megawatts, the Twin Groves wind farm will be one of the nation’s largest and is estimated to provide enough power for 120,000 homes. After construction is complete, a full-time crew of 25 will provide operational maintenance, Whitlock said.

The company entered into a 30-year-lease agreement with 150 landowners who will receive a total of $1.2 million annually.

About 40 landowners who reside 2,500 feet from any planned turbine have also signed up with Horizon to receive a total annual stipend of around $25,000.

“It’s about being a good neighbor,” Whitlock said of the Neighbor Program. “It’s for the inconvenience of the construction and (the turbines) will change their view.”

Construction on the remaining 120 towers should begin sometime in 2007.

Andrea Frampton can be reached at 686-3041 or state@pjstar.com.