BINGHAM – In the coming years, people driving on Route 16 may pass a wind turbine on Johnson Mountain.
If all goes according to plan, it would be one of up to 35 turbines installed along the ridgeline between that point and Blanchard Township, more than 30 miles northeast. The spot in Bingham is about two miles from the nearest year-round residence, said Steven Steward, first selectman.
One company, First Wind, wants to develop the area’s wind resource and is starting to gather wind data. Discussions with Bingham selectmen are beginning, and Somerset County commissioners will meet with representatives of First Wind on Wednesday, Oct. 6.
One wind testing tower, called a meteorological pole, is currently in place in the northeast corner of Bingham. There are four in Mayfield Township, and the company recently received approval to erect a tower in Kingsbury Plantation, according to John Lamontagne, director of corporate communications for First Wind.
“We haven’t determined where the turbines could be placed, but one location under consideration is Johnson Mountain,” Lamontagne said. “The design of the project will ultimately take a number of things into consideration, including the results of the wind study, the locations of existing infrastructure like roads and transmission, environmental surveys, locations of dwellings and more.”
The project would likely cost millions of dollars, but it is premature to set a specific amount now, Lamontagne said. “We can say that the Stetson I project in Danforth featured 38 turbines and cost about $130 million. This also included the construction of a 38-mile transmission line, which would not be included in the Bingham project,” he said.
So far, Bingham selectmen appear to be in favor of the project. “We’re listening to all options and all sides. The location is ideal. There’s nothing up there,” Steward said.
“I definitely think where it’s going to be located, there should be no problem at all. I’m all for it, 100 percent. We need new tax revenue in town; we need new electricity,” Selectman Larry Malloy said.
First Wind is responsible for Stetson Wind, a utility-scale wind farm in Washington County. Steward said some of the selectmen visited the Stetson project and that sound was not an issue.
“Two hundred yards, we could barely hear them. Two miles away, if someone can hear them, they’ve got supersonic hearing,” Steward said.
There is the potential for the project to benefit the area, he said, through short-term construction jobs and an improved tax base. “We’ll benefit from it, no doubt in my mind. It’s how we work the deal,” he said.
Steward said a tax increment financing district may be arranged and would need approval by residents. In that instance, the developer would pool some of its property taxes in a fund for the town’s economic development projects. The developer would also receive a portion.
Alan Michka is a resident of Lexington Township and is chairman of the board of the organization the Friends of the Highland Mountains, which was formed in opposition to a proposed 48-turbine wind-generation project located west of Moscow, in Highland Plantation. He said that at this stage, people in Bingham should be concerned about not having a turbine-related ordinance.
They should be particularly concerned, he said, about not having a decommissioning policy, which would prevent the town from incurring the expense of removing the turbines if the developer ever goes bankrupt, or the project fails in some way.
“I would suggest that the people of Bingham, since they do have the power, consider that, and make sure the money is fully there, upfront, before the place even starts to operate,” he said.
In regards to possible noise problems, he said, “You don’t know until it’s there. That’s the problem.” While most people probably wouldn’t be bothered by the noise at two miles, “Noise is in the ear of the beholder,” he said.
Many towns may be wooed, he said, by possible economic benefits. “I would advise those towns to carefully weigh out the tangible benefits offered by the developer relative to what it’s actually going to do to their communities,” he said.
That includes a TIF district. While the town may benefit, and the company may get some tax relief, the state may lose out on the property tax money, he said. “Mainers pick up the tab; they get a degraded landscape; and the developer laughs all the way to the bank,” he said.
Meetings to discuss the project are anticipated in Bingham in October.
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