ROCKWOOD – State regulators unanimously approved a proposal Wednesday to build New England’s largest wind farm on a remote ridgeline in northern Washington County.
Members of the Land Use Regulation Commission voted 6-0 to rezone 4,800 acres on Stetson Mountain so that Evergreen Wind Power can erect 38 wind turbines on the ridgeline located between Springfield and Danforth.
Evergreen Wind still must submit final plans to the commission before beginning construction of the turbines, each of which will measure roughly 390 feet from base to blade tip.
But once operational, the wind farm is expected to generate 57 megawatts of pollution-free electricity annually, which company officials said is the equivalent of the annual electricity demand of 27,500 Maine households.
“It’s a good day, and we’re really pleased with the outcome,” said Matt Kearns, director of project development for UPC Wind Management, the parent company of Evergreen Wind. “These kinds of decisions require careful consideration and balance, and we’re excited to take the project to the next step.”
The vote undoubtedly will not go over as well for some local residents who fought the proposal, citing concerns about turbine noise and impacts on recreational activities, scenic views and wildlife.
But several environmental organizations hailed the decision as a positive step in Maine’s effort to promote clean, renewable energy sources.
“It’s certainly a watershed event,” said Jody Jones, a biologist with Maine Audubon.
In many ways, LURC’s resounding approval of the Stetson project was also a sign of how things are changing in Maine’s Unorganized Territory.
LURC has only given preliminary approval to one other large wind farm in the commission’s 36-year history – a mammoth project in the Boundary Mountains consisting of 639 turbines. A final plan was never filed, however, and the preliminary approval expired in 1997.
There are now three sizeable wind proposals pending with the commission, including Stetson, and more are expected. In fact, UPC Wind is seeking LURC authorization for another testing tower to monitor wind conditions in another site not far from Stetson Mountain, Kearns said.
The two remaining western mountains projects pending before the commission – known as the Black Nubble and Kibby projects – could come up for a vote in the coming months.
UPC Wind is no newcomer to wind energy. In addition to facilities in New York and Hawaii, the company operates Maine’s only other large wind-energy facility in the Aroostook County town of Mars Hill.
LURC staff recommended approval of the Stetson application after finding that the project would have “low potential” for undue impacts on natural resources or public use of the area.
Staff also cited the wind farm’s anticipated economic contribution to Washington County, which struggles with high unemployment and poverty rates. UPC Wind predicts the local tax revenue from the Stetson facility will exceed the $500,000 generated by the Mars Hill wind farm.
The project also had strong support from local and Washington County officials.
Electricity generated from the Stetson project will flow into the New England power grid. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is currently reviewing the proposed transmission line connecting the wind-energy facility to local electricity infrastructure.
Stetson Mountain is located in a sparsely populated area of Washington County’s northernmost border with Penobscot County and Canada. It’s a scenic area with rolling, heavily forested hills that help support the local timber industry.
Hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and other forms of outdoor recreation are also an important part of both local culture and the regional economy. So UPC’s proposal to build 38 wind turbines, each standing nearly 400 feet tall, has not gone over well with everyone.
The turbines will be visible from Baskahegan Lake and several other local fishing spots as well as from some local residences and roads.
At an August public hearing, local homeowners and guides expressed concern about how the facility will affect the outdoor recreation industry and wildlife populations.
Opponents also raised concerns about noise from the turbines, which has been a problem for some homeowners near the Mars Hill farm.
Speaking Wednesday, Kearns said the company is sensitive to the concerns and will monitor the noise levels. He also said a portion of the company’s taxes will be earmarked for nature-based tourism and outdoor recreation.
Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said he hopes Wednesday’s vote bodes well for the Black Nubble and Kibby wind-energy applications pending with LURC.
By BDN Staff
8 November 2007
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