November 20, 2007

Winds of change: the future of wind power in Maine

Turning slowly in a six mile-per-hour breeze, the 28 turbines of the Mars Hill Wind Farm are a dramatic sight. They line the ridge line of Aroostook County’s tallest mountain, and can be seen for miles.

Whether they are elegant or awful depends on your point of view. The Mars Hill Wind Farm is Maine’s first, and the largest in New England. But it may soon be swarfed by others.

State regulators have already given preliminary approval to another project by UPC Wind, the owners of the Mars Hill farm. That one would be built on Stetson Mountain in Washington county.

Mars Hill has a generating capacity of 42 megawatts (MW). The Stetson Mountain project is currently estimated at 57 MW. And the Land Use Regulation Commission is also reviewing two other, larger projects in Western Maine by other developers. They include a 65 MW project for Black Nubble Mountain and a 133 MW project in Kibby Township, called TransCanada.

Besides these, there are nearly a half dozen other commercial sites now being studied and tested for potential wind farms, including a project for Northern Aroostook County that would dwarf any of those on the drawing board right now.

Environmental leaders and state energy officials are excited about all the interest in wind power, and all are learning more about it, thanks to Mars Hill. But the project has critics in its hometown.

A group of about 18 homeowners in Mars Hill is angry about loud noise that is produced by the wind turbines. The neighbors say the noise is not consistent, that it can vary with weather and wind conditions. At times, it’s almost inaudible. But at other thimes, they say, the noise can reach over 50 decibels in their homes, disturbing sleep and making life uncomfortable.

The Maine DEP has been conducting sound testing for months, but still has not released the results. UPC Wind says it wants to do something to alleviate the problem, but so far there is no definite guideline for what that will be.

And in one step along the wind power learning curve, the Town Manager of Mars Hill says he believes future wind projects should have guidelines for how close wind turbines are placed to homes. He says a turbine within 2,500 feet should have to get a noise easement from the homeowner, to avoid problems with complaints later on.

The other large wind projects currently under review by the state are all in areas that are much less populated than Mars Hill.

Web Editor: Rhonda Erskine, Online Content Producer

19 November 2007

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