HARPSWELL – When Richard Newman looks at the ridge overlooking Long Reach Cove, he sees the perfect elements for a small wind farm.
With an elevation of 200 feet, it’s the highest point in Harpswell. The ridge is situated on town-owned land. It’s remote. Best of all, there appears to be enough coastal blow for three, maybe four, electricity-generating turbines.
So far, there’s only one thing missing: local will.
That may change.
Last week Newman, a retired investment banker and research analyst, submitted a preliminary investigation for a wind farm to the Board of Selectmen. The document includes monthly wind readings conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from nearby Brunswick Naval Air Station, as well as an early assessment from environmental engineers at Wright-Pierce.
If the project gets legs, Newman believes it could result in an alternative, renewable power source generating electricity, income and tax relief for residents.
Newman proposed exploring the wind farm during a spring selectmen meeting. He now leads the charge for further analysis. The next step is a yearlong wind study to be conducted by the University of Massachusetts Center for Energy, Efficiency & Renewable Energy.
Selectmen are deciding whether to commission the study, the cost of which ranges between $25,000 and $35,000, but could be absorbed by allocations from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Town officials have stressed that the project is only under consideration. Selectmen, meanwhile, have added they will not use any town funds to subsidize exploration of the project.
That hasn’t deterred Newman. He doesn’t believe Harpswell will have to do anything but capitalize on the opportunity.
“The area has some very unique assets,” said Newman, who moved to Harpswell about two years ago. “We know from the information at BNAS and wind maps of Maine that the potential may very well be there. That certainly is my hope.”
Newman believes the project will cost between $9 million and $12 million, an expenditure that would likely prevent Harpswell from owning the wind farm. Instead, Newman proposes the town lease the land to a private firm and allow it to sell the electricity, estimated at 11 million kilowatts annually.
The consultant estimated the town could lease the property for between $9,000 to $18,000 per year. In addition, the town could cash in on the $8.5 million projected for the valuation, resulting in $51,500 in annual tax revenues under the current mil rate.
Newman stressed that all his work is free – his motivation comes from recognizing a rare opportunity and a desire to find clean, renewable energy sources. In that regard, Newman said he believes he has allies in Harpswell.
“I think we desperately need clean energy in this country,” he said. “Harpswell is an excellent, intelligent community that recognizes this. If this works, Harpswell could and should play a leadership role in Maine by showing this type of project can exist within the beauty of community.”
Newman isn’t naive enough to think everyone will agree.
While subject to personal sensibilities, wind power’s inherent unsightliness and noise have been the source of controversy around the state, in some cases pitting environmentalists against environmentalists. Wind farms at Black Nubble and Redington Pond are most recent examples, where the Natural Resources Council of Maine found itself clashing with unlikely foes: Maine Audubon and Appalachian Trail advocates.
The size of the farm envisioned for Long Reach – three, maybe four, turbines – may not generate as much opposition as larger projects. However, Harpswell residents have been divided over less ambitious ventures.
Newman contends that a wind farm at Long Reach could be done with minimal impact on the local environment.
That will likely be a touchy subject if the project gains momentum.
The ridge near Long Reach is part of 200 acres of town-owned property behind the transfer station and town offices. Wind turbines could be positioned near the Cliff Trail, a 2.3-mile hiking loop that begins behind town offices and leads to 150-foot cliffs overlooking Long Reach.
There are few homes in the area. One is near Hannah’s Cove Road, another at the end of Henry Creek Way. There is another across the cove at Orion’s Point Road.
All would seem a safe distance from wind turbine noise. However, there are times when the rumble of P-3 Orions taxiing at BNAS can be heard down the cove from nearly seven miles away.
Newman understands the concern about noise, but believes recent advancements in blade design are reducing the problem. In addition, Newman said any project near the Cliff Trail would take into account migratory bird patterns and the natural landscape.
“We’ve been assured that if the project went forward, every blade of grass would be left intact or repaired,” he said. “We would make a special effort not to destroy the hiking trails in any way.”
Newman said an old logging road near the property, or possibly helicopters, could be used to transport the turbines to the ridge.
Such procedures are a long way from materializing. For now, Newman hopes selectmen and residents will at least allow him to continue exploring the project.
“We’ll see if the people of Harpswell are willing to compromise some small part of the town in the interest of cleaning up the atmosphere,” he said. “People here have an opportunity to be leaders. … If we don’t, we could be potentially passing up a lot of money that could offset tax expenditures and a subsidized wind study.”
By Steve Mistler
8 November 2007
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