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Harpswell to explore Long Reach wind study

HARPSWELL – The Board of Selectmen last week agreed to further investigate the viability of a small wind farm on Long Reach Mountain.

The board requested a proposal for a year-long wind study from University of Massachusetts Renewable Energy Research Laboratories. Such research would help determine if a three- or four-turbine wind farm could be located atop Long Reach, the town’s highest point.

While the UMass request is a significant step for the town, it does not guarantee that a study will be conducted. Costs for the research range between $25,000 and $35,000 and town officials have already expressed reluctance to expend any town funds. However, the Renewable Energy Research Laboratories receives an annual allocation from the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct wind research. It is hoped that Harpswell will qualify for a cost-free study.

If it does, residents will be asked to green-light the research, perhaps as early as the March 2008 Town Meeting.

In May, the Board of Selectmen charged Harpswell resident Richard Newman with investigating the possibility of a wind farm. Earlier this month, Newman submitted preliminary analysis that contained 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.

Newman, who has also been in contact with Renewable Energy Research Laboratories, believes the project is viable. The turbines would be located on town-owned land and potentially leased to an energy company. The project would 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.

A 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 $8.5 million projected for the valuation, resulting in $51,500 in annual tax revenues under the current mil rate.

Depending on the outcome of the wind study, residents may be forced to weigh the benefits of such a project. While wind farms are championed as renewable energy resources, they are not without controversy, as evidenced in several proposals across the state.

Opponents have cited concerns about noise, aesthetics and impact on local wildlife.

A wind farm on Long Reach would be located atop a 200-foot ridge. While the ridge is largely isolated, it is also near a 2.3-mile hiking loop owned by the town. The ridge is visible from small sections of Mountain Road and Route 24.

By Steve Mistler

The Forecaster

22 November 2007