September 15, 2010
Maine, Opinions

Spruce Mountain wind project falls far short of what people should expect


PHILLIPS – A proposal for an 11-turbine industrial wind power facility will be reviewed and decided upon by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection soon.

As proposed by Patriot Renewables, this complex will occupy the ridgeline of Spruce Mountain, in the town of Woodstock, above Little Concord Pond.

After reading the application and interagency comments, here is what I discovered.

In March, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife updated its list of species of special concern.

This lists species suffering a reduction of numbers, loss of habitat and/or major impacts from development.

Within the proposed project footprint, a total of 21 species are endangered or of special concern. They include the wood thrush, veery, scarlet tanager, American redstart, black and white warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, yellow warbler, white-throated sparrow, northern parula, barred owl, eastern towhee, prairie warbler and olive-sided flycatcher.

Also included are the hoary and silver-haired bats. New studies show migratory or tree-roosting bats are attracted to insects that are drawn by the lighting and heat of the structures housing the wind-turbine generating components, causing an increase in bat strikes.

The bald eagle, Northern harrier and peregrine falcon were observed during the survey. Maine’s rarest bird, the golden eagle, was also seen, not only by the survey but also by local bird watchers.

All species could be directly affected by this project. The northern spring salamander, a species of special concern listee, was documented in four of the streams sited for alteration. Building a wind power facility here will directly and significantly affect their habitat.

There are 19 ponds within the eight-mile scenic value viewshed.

Shagg Pond is in the drainage area of the project. Portions of the 3.5 miles of new roads will be seen from Speckled and Bald mountains. Wetlands, vernal pools and streams will be affected by the 1.3 miles of new electrical lines. Don’t forget the herbicide applications to maintain the 60- to 100-foot corridor.

What is the trade-off for all these impacts? What are we getting for giving up this beautiful, vibrant and alive mountain range? What I found is disturbing.

The project’s cost for 11 2-megawatt turbines, roads, power lines and support structures is $37 million, or $3.36 million per turbine.

The applicant claims a potential rated output of 22 megawatts of electricity annually. It has been demonstrated by other facilities that the actual output or capacity factor is between 20 percent to 30 percent. Capacity factor is a way of measuring the productivity of a wind turbine.

It compares the actual production (over a given time) to the power it could have produced at maximum output. TransCanada admitted during the Kibby expansion hearings that its capacity factor there is 31.8 percent. So the 22-megawatt annual potential just dropped to 6.6 megawatts generated annually.

I read the peer review resubmission noise study, dated July 15, provided by the applicant. It seems turbines 6 through 11 each exceed the nighttime noise standards by 2.8 decibels. This is after the town of Woodstock’s waiver at the project property boundary permitting 50 decibels and 55 decibels in two select areas of the project.

The applicant proposed restricted operations by powering down turbines 9 through 11 from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m.. Turbines 6 through 8 will be restricted from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m.

Would you organize and finance a project with the intent to generate a given amount of energy, or drill a well to pump a given amount of water, or build a road to move a certain amount of traffic, and then shut it down or block it off for a loss of 50 percent of the capacity?

Haven’t we learned anything from Mars Hill and Vinalhaven about sound and human impacts?

What kind of energy is really going to be produced to mitigate the impacts stated above?

The applicant offered to put 1,000 acres into conservation. The 1,000 acres just happens to surround the turbines and roads. Gee, thanks.

Concerns about this project need to be expressed to the DEP soon.

Nancy O’Toole of Phillips has an environmental engineering degree from Montana Tech and has lived in Maine for four years. She was an expert witness at the Land Use Regulation Commission hearings for the Kibby Expansion Project at the Chain of Ponds.

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