KINGFIELD -– Representatives from TransCanada visited the Original Irregular office Wednesday, Sept. 5.
The purpose of the visit (the third visit of this kind) was to keep us informed on the latest progress on their wind power development project proposed in Kibby and Skinner townships. Of notable interested, Nick Di domenico of TransCanada broke the news to us that there is now a Land Use Regulation Commission Public Hearing scheduled for Oct. 2, 3 and 4 at Sugarloaf/USA.
The proposal, deemed complete by the LURC staff, consists of the rezoning of approximately 2,900 acres of protected mountain ridges above 2,700 feet to a planned development sub district for the purposes of installing 44, 260-foot (hub height) or 410-foot (top on blade height), 3-megawatt wind turbines. The total wind farm is proposed as a 132-megawatt facility. Twelve of the turbines are proposed to be sited below 2,700 feet and no turbine is proposed above 3,210 feet. The land is owned by Plumb Creek on which TransCanada has a wind power agreement.
The project includes the construction and use of 35 miles of dirt roads. Of the road use, 18 miles of roads are already in place and used in the timber harvesting industry. The balance or 17.4 miles are proposed as new roads.
According to a memo from Marcia Spencer Famous, Senior Planner of the LURC staff, the project also includes a “maintenance & operations building, transmission lines, a substation, and related activities.”
The project includes a “115 kV transmission line (that) would originate at the new substation in Kibby Twp., and would pass through Jim Pond Twp., the Town of Eustis, Coplin Plt., Wyman Twp., connecting to the Bigelow Substation in Carrabassett Valley,” Spencer Famous said. Portions of the 115 kV transmission line would be located in the organized towns of Eustis and Carrabassett Valley and would be reviewed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the respective towns. TransCanada representatives have held a couple of public open houses in the Stratton area, attended many selectmen’s meetings across Franklin County and shared with them the project information in addition to speaking before the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.
Just recently all three county commissioners have heard from Di domenico and have unanimously agreed to endorse the $270 million project.
Last month alone, representatives conducted several tours of the proposed site for members of state agencies, media, stakeholders and other interested parties, all of which started at the Appalachian Trail parking lot along Route 27. The tours started with an overview of the project and members then started their way up to the proposed development site. Along the way it was noted that there may be a quick view of a few of the towers near the Vine Road north of the Stratton village. Di domenico also noted that there also may be a glimpse of two or three of the tops of the towers at the Sarampus Falls pull-off. Other then that, he said they will not be seen by motorists or residents of any town.
Literature states that the closest turbine to the Appalachian Trail is 15.5 miles away, eight miles from Eustis/Stratton population center and the closest resident is 1.2 miles away.
The main access to the farm will be the existing Gold Brook Road which, Di domenico said, was a well maintained gravel road heavily used in logging. The project manager said that they plan on making additional improvements to the road such as straightening curves and replacing culverts. Under the Plumb Creek policy, Di domenico said, the land will remain open to the public and continue to be used for recreational and wood harvesting purposes. The developer explained that when they access the Gold Brook Road, they use CB radios to communicate with the other trucks using the road for safety purposes and strongly recommended this safety practice.
The above ground transmission line in its entirety would also be open for recreational purposes. A road along the transmission line will not be built and access along its entirety, could be used by ATVs and snowmobiles.
Under the current proposal, the above ground transmission line will be lowered and go underground about 100 yards north of the Appalachian Trail parking lot. “Visible impacts” were noted as the justification for the underground power supply from the point north of the AT parking lot to the Bigelow Station in Carrabassett. Di domenico was joined by Christine Cinnamon, a Canadian Certified Environmental Practitioner, who spoke on behalf of the proposed wind farm.
Cinnamon went into detail about the environmental studies conducted and agency consultation review prior to submitting their application.
She explained that they carefully sited each turbine, road and all aspects of the project to have minimal effect on wildlife species and habitat.
One example she sited was working with Maine Natural Areas Program to show that the entire project falls outside of quality sub-alpine fir communities.
“They (MNAP) have remapped and show that our project is completely outside of sub-alpine fir habitat. So that was one key item. That kind of area has habitat potentially for Bicknell’s thrush which is a species of concern,” Cinnamon explained.
“We’ve done an awful amount of studies between 2005 and 2006 to minimize the footprint. We were settled in dropping areas that potentially had more impact prior to submitting the application.”
In all, Di domenico explained that they’ve invested over $5 million in the project already through studies and analysis.
Di domenico explained that they came to terms with the Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Audubon and the Natural Resource Council of Maine to not develop specific areas of the range that had potential for impacts. These areas include ridgelines called “C” and “D” in the proposal. “In addition to not developing C and D we’re contributing a half of a million dollars to buy land above 2,700 around Sunday River. That’s part of the conservation agreement package,” Di domenico explained of the relationship they have with the agencies.
He explained that it is this agreement that’s gained the project support from these agencies. “We think that these kinds of expenditures are the right thing to do.”
Similarly, he explained that the community support package was also the right thing to do. “We have a formal agreement with Stratton-Eustis to contribute to them $1,000 per megawatt per year. That’s $132,000 or 132 megawatts over the life of the project for them to do with whatever they please.”
Cinnamon explained that over $1 million a year of taxes they pay will go to the organized territories and this is their way of giving back to the local community. “We wanted to make sure that they (Stratton) benefited from the project.”
Representatives explained that the contribution was based on “installed” megawatts and not based on power output. “Even if no turbine was turning for a year they would still get it back, because it’s installed capacity and not what we generate,” Cinnamon said. “It’s the right thing to do,” Di domenico added.
Several concerns raised by local opposition were discussed with the developers such as questions about reduced emissions, congested power lines and whether the turbines would fit “harmoniously” within the landscape and within surrounding land uses.
The representatives took the time to explain their perspective regarding opposition viewpoints.
Di domenico explained that he’s willing to sit down with any group and provide additional group tours of the proposed site. Several commissioners from LURC were scheduled to take a tour during the middle of last week. He later explained that there’s only one intervenor on LURC’s Public Hearing list that has come out and said they oppose the project and he said he’s met with them in the past.
TransCanada can be reached at 877-943-3367 and information about the project can be gathered at www.transcanada.com/kibbywindpower. The developer’s application is also available online at LURC’s Web site.
By David Hart, Irregular Staff
12 September 2007
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