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40-turbine wind project under way

LINCOLN, Maine – First Wind of Massachusetts has started final construction of its $130 million Rollins Mountain wind project with hopes of having it finished by April 1, officials said Friday.

“It is hard to predict, and God knows the weather in Maine doesn’t cooperate all the time, but that’s our hope,” First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said.

First Wind leaders told town Economic Development Director Ruth Birtz that they would continue installation work that began with site clearing and road building on Sept. 21 at Rollins Ridge off Route 6 by pouring concrete bases for the 40 turbines, each generating 1½ megawatts, slated for ridgelines in Burlington, Lincoln, Lee and Winn, she said.

“We’re psyched. We are thrilled to be moving forward on this,” Lamontagne said Friday. “It typically takes six to nine months to build one of these projects and get it generating power.”

About 90 percent of the land slated for clearing has been cleared. One turbine concrete foundation has been poured with several more due to be poured shortly. About 30 percent of the rights of way for the proposed transmission line hooking the project to the New England power grid have been acquired, Lamontagne said.

Company officials hope to have most if not all of the turbines and other materials being stored at their Chester site installed by April, but that hope rests on good weather, Birtz said.

The Lincoln Planning Board approved the project on Dec. 1, 2008, with the other host towns eventually following suit. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s permit for the First Wind subsidiary came in April 2009, but the project, probably the most protested since wind-to-energy companies began investing in Maine, had been in civil court since then.

The Friends of Lincoln Lakes, a citizens group formed to oppose the project, took its series of appeals to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court but lost. Its latest appeal, to the Board of Environmental Protection on Oct. 7, was rejected.

The group’s president, Brad Blake, said he was angered by the rejection.

“I am outraged that the citizens of this state have had their rights to determine what happens in their own communities severely curtailed and subjugated to the interests of big wind, an industry that should not exist and would not exist without massive government subsidies and preferential treatment, which includes the heinous expedited wind permit statute,” Blake said.

The statute allows for industrial wind projects to be fast-tracked through the state permitting process in exchange for project proponents’ providing tangible benefits for their host communities, which, besides tax revenue, could include everything from scholarships to community parks.

The law, Blake said, “has essentially opened the floodgates to this industry, ruining the landscape of rural Maine from New Hampshire to Canada.”

Birtz took a distinctly different view. The Rollins project, the state’s first due to sell power to Maine utilities, will benefit Lincoln Lakes region construction workers and businesses, including hotels, restaurants and other stores, as soon as the work begins in earnest, she said.

Blake said he wasn’t sure whether the group would file further protests or what form they might take.