NORRIDGEWOCK – Willow Cordes-Eklund, 27, had one thing to do before reporting to jail on Thursday: join a protest against Maine industrial wind development projects.
The Minneapolis, Minn., native, who was arrested for blocking a tractor-trailer truck hauling a wind turbine blade in Chain of Ponds Township last summer, brought a large cloth sign that read, “Silly turbines, wind is for eagles.”
About two dozen people from at least eight counties gathered for the demonstration at the intersection of U.S. Route 2 and Route 139.
The protesters stood on the sidewalk along the route traveled by trucks carrying massive turbine parts to the Record Hill Wind LLC project in the small Oxford County town of Roxbury.
The turbines on Thursday were delivered according to schedule before the protest began, according to state police, but one activist said the event was about educating people.
“It’s all about education and awareness,” Concord Township resident David Corrigan said. “I haven’t yet met an honest person who supports industrial wind once they know all the facts.”
Thursday was selected for the protest because it’s the day Cordes-Eklund, a member of the Earth First! movement, had to report to Franklin County Jail to start serving a 10-day sentence for failure to disperse.
In July 2010 she used a bicycle lock to chain herself by the neck to a tractor-trailer during a protest of the Kibby Mountain wind power project in Franklin County and was arrested after police had to cut the lock.
“I came today to show my support in the continued fight against the destruction of mountains in Maine,” Cordes-Eklund said, a tattoo of a crow on her forearm.
“I don’t live a life of regret,” she said. But she added, “I do wish we didn’t have to go through these extreme measures to have our voices heard.”
Energy will flow to Maine
The $135 million Record Hill wind project will have 22 turbines and an eight-mile-long transmission line, which will connect with Central Maine Power Co.
The turbines, each worth more than $3 million, are built in Denmark by Siemens and shipped overseas to Searsport, said Rob Gardiner, one of the principals of Independence Wind LLC. Former Gov. Angus King is also a principal.
Yale University Endowment is a major sponsor of the project, working with Independence Wind, of Brunswick, and Wagner Wind Energy I LLC, of Lyme, N.H.
It’s anticipated the turbines will be producing electricity for the equivalent of 20,000 typical Maine households by the end of fall.
“As long as they’re not getting in the way, expressing their opinion is pretty routine,” Gardiner said about people protesting. “This has happened on every wind project in Maine. It’s an opportunity to make a statement.”
He said the electricity will flow into the Central Maine Power grid, so the project will benefit Maine residents.
Though surplus Maine electricity spills into the New England power grid, for every hour a wind project generates electricity, “it is reducing electricity costs to the customer because it means a more expensive gas-generated plant is not running as heavily,” Gardiner said.
“The cost to the customer is less. Every customer benefits,” he added.
People at the protest largely supported wind energy in general but opposed the turbines’ environmental impact on remote areas of Maine. Several wind power projects are proposed for areas of Somerset County.
“They just don’t belong on the mountaintops,” said one activist, 72-year-old Dick Roberts, of Dixfield. Wearing a green felt hat with a feather in it, he said he has enjoyed hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail throughout his life.
He worries about the effect of turbines on animals, how the whirring of blades might disturb residents and the impact construction has on nearby water systems, he said.
“There’s nothing green about clear-cutting mountaintops and ridges for whatever purpose,” added a man who identified himself as Storm Waters, of Augusta.
The subsidized projects will undermine tourism, said Lexington Township resident Jonathan Carter, director of the Forest Ecology Network. The projects won’t noticeably reduce carbon dioxide and they won’t create many jobs, he added.
Monique Aniel, of Oquossoc, is co-chairman of the Citizens’ Task Force on Wind Power. A retired physician, she has seen the effect turbines have on people’s health, particularly on the island of Vinalhaven, she said.
Though she does not live next to a wind development project, she said she became involved out of “empathy toward people who are suffering with undue stress,” she said.
If people are not allowed to erect billboards in Maine, she asked, why are 25-story turbines allowed in Maine’s wild areas?
“You sacrifice a whole area,” she said.
In the case of the Roxbury wind project, nearby Rumford has a natural gas-fired power generation facility with an electricity output capacity larger than that of the wind turbine project, she said.
It doesn’t make sense to “destroy an entire vista of mountains with 400-foot turbines lit at night,” she said, when the gas plant, Rumford Power Associates Limited Partnership, is a short distance away, does not always operate at capacity, and is processing a relatively non-polluting product.
Though the event was not organized by one group, the people present represented at least eight different organizations. In addition to the task force group, there were people from Friends of Lincoln Lakes, Friends of Boundary Mountains, Maine Earth First!, Concerned Citizens to Save Roxbury, Friends of Highland Mountains, Friends of Maine’s Mountains and the River Valley Alliance Against Wind.
The communities they came from included Belgrade, Augusta, Concord and Lexington townships, Rumford, Freeport, Dixfield, Lincoln, Corinth, Oquossoc, Verona Island and Sangerville.