Staff at the Land Use Regulation Commission have recommended approval of a 38-turbine wind farm in northern Washington County that, if built today, would be New England’s largest wind-energy facility.
LURC staff said the Stetson Mountain wind farm – proposed for a forested ridgeline between the communities of Danforth and Springfield – would have “low potential” for undue impacts on natural resources or public use of the area.
In their endorsement, staff also cited the wind farm’s anticipated economic contribution to Washington County as well as the presumed environmental benefits of additional wind power in the state.
LURC’s appointed board is expected to vote on the staff recommendation during a meeting in Rockwood next Wednesday. If approved by the commission, the applicant, Evergreen Wind Power, would have to submit final plans to LURC for review before beginning construction.
But company representative Matt Kearns said he was pleased that the LURC staff supports the preliminary plan.
“There’s a lot of work that remains, but we think this is a positive step to bringing this to fruition,” said Kearns, director of project development at UPC Wind Management, the parent company of Evergreen Wind Power.
“We take nothing for granted and we’re anxious to hear what the commissioners have to say,” Kearns said.
Evergreen Wind is seeking to rezone about 4,800 acres on Stetson Mountain for the project, although only 33 acres would be permanently altered.
The 38 turbines would be placed along a 6- to 7-mile stretch of the ridgeline, which roughly parallels Route 169 near the border of Penobscot County and northernmost Washington County.
UPC would lease the land from Lakeville Shores Inc., a woods business that plans to continue managing the land for timber. The companies have said the land will remain open to the public, although a snowmobile trail may be re-routed.
Standing nearly 400 feet tall from base to blade tip, the turbines would be visible from some local roads and homes as well as popular fishing holes, including nearby Baskahegan Lake. Some local residents have expressed concern about the visual impacts and possible noise from the turbines.
But local officials and statewide environmental groups have embraced the project, which is expected to produce a handful of permanent jobs and generate enough electricity to power 27,500 Maine households annually.
The company predicts that tax revenue from the facility will exceed the $500,000 generated by Evergreen’s other major wind farm in Maine, located in the Aroostook County town of Mars Hill.
“I think the staff is making the right recommendation,” said Sean Mahoney, vice president and director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Maine office.
“It has a fairly minimal environmental impact, it is in a good wind resource area … and it moves Maine that much closer to the goal of harvesting more of the resources of renewable energy,” he said.
Company officials selected the location because of its steady winds, rural location and pre-existing network of well-maintained logging roads across the ridgeline.
The nearest seasonal camp, whose owners are supporting the proposal, is a half-mile away. A total of 13 year-round or seasonal residences are located within one mile of the turbine sites.
As a result, the Stetson project has encountered far less opposition than two other wind-farms proposed for Maine’s Western Mountains, including one near Sugarloaf/USA ski resort.
But not everyone is pleased with the prospect of 400-foot-tall turbines on top of Stetson.
A group of local residents expressed concern about impacts on wildlife, the possibility of wells fracturing during construction and fire risks from the turbines. Opponents also expressed worries about noise from the turbines, which has been an issue in Mars Hill, and how visual impacts from the turbines will affect the outdoor recreation industry.
Roberta Cole, who lives roughly 3 miles away from the nearest turbine site, said she felt that opponents to the project were not heard by the commission.
Cole questioned whether the environmental benefits truly outweighed the “destruction” that she said will take place on the mountain and she worries about noise and vibrations from the turbines.
“We’ve been here for 24 years now and we never thought anything like this would happen out here,” said Cole, who has a sign reading “Save God’s Country: No Wind Farms” in her yard. “We moved here for the country.”
In their recommendation, LURC staff noted that public use within the “viewshed” is relatively light and that the turbines will be off in the distance in many locations.
“While some [adverse economic] effect is possible, no evidence conclusively demonstrated this,” reads the staff recommendation. “Moreover, the addition of construction jobs and benefits to companies hired as contractors during construction, as well as secondary beneficial effects due to purchasing of goods and services during the construction period, are likely to offset any possible adverse effects.”
By Kevin Miller
1 November 2007
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