A Canadian company hopes to build a wind power project in Franklin County that would be the biggest of its kind in the state.
TransCanada, a large Canadian energy company that owns or controls roughly 7,700 megawatts of generating capacity in the United States and Canada, will file an application with the Land Use Regulation Commission within 30 days to build a $250 million to $300 million wind farm, according to a spokesman.
If the application is approved, 44 turbines – each roughly 41 stories high – will be constructed on Kibby Mountain and the Kibby Range near the Somerset County line beginning as soon as next fall.
Nick Di Domenico, project manager for TransCanada, said the project would generate 132 megawatts at peak capacity. He said the company has spent 18 months studying the wind resource and the surrounding environment on the mountains.
“We have satisfied ourselves that we can build 132 megawatts with minimal environmental impacts,” he said.
The Kibby project would be well more than twice the size of the 50-megawatt Mars Hill wind farm in northern Maine, which is expected to begin transmitting power this month.
It is also much larger than the proposed 90-megawatt Redington Wind Farm project, also in Franklin County, proposed by Maine Mountain Power.
Concerns about fragile ecosystems have made the 30-turbine Redington project on Black Nubble Mountain and Redington Range controversial.
Hundreds of people attended three days of public hearings on that project in August. Environmentalists said the project would have an unacceptable effect on fragile sub-alpine habitat and would erect lighted towers close to the Appalachian Trail.
The Land Use Regulation Commission has scheduled a meeting to discuss the project next month.
Di Domenico said one reason his company was attracted to the Kibby Township site is that in the mid-1990s, an application for a wind power project there was approved, although no turbines were ever built.
“(The application) had gone through a very vigorous environmental review and come out the other end,” Di Domenico said.
Just the same, Di Domenico said, TransCanada has studied the project’s effect on vernal pools, wetlands, bird migrations, bats, and many sensitive species. He said TransCanada has also worked closely with environmental advocacy groups.
Pete Didisheim, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said that while the council does not have a position on the Kibby project yet, the site does not seem likely to be as controversial as Redington Ridge.
“Our general sense is the TransCanada site meets many of the criteria that one would use to select a good site,” Didisheim said.
The project also fits well economically within New England’s power generation landscape.
Federal tax incentives and a premium for wind power offered by some New England states help make the project economically feasible, said Di Domenico.
Those economic factors, along with Maine’s strong wind resource, relatively friendly regulatory atmosphere and the fact that it is in the energy-hungry Northeast make it attractive to wind power investors, according to Kurt Adams, chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
“There are a lot of places on the planet that have a great wind resource but not many are right next to Boston,” he said.
The state’s growing wind power generating capacity is a good thing for several reasons, including the fact that Maine is very dependent on fossil fuel generators, particularly natural gas, said Adams.
In 2004, about three quarters of Maine’s power came from oil or gas, with the vast majority of that coming from gas generating plants.
Because Maine has more generating capacity than it uses, any new non-fossil fuel generation will tend to exert downward pressure on prices, he said.
By ALAN CROWELL
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
474-9534, Ext. 342
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