ROXBURY – More than 100 residents and property owners of Roxbury were provided a bus tour of the Record Hill wind project under rainy conditions Saturday.
Acting as a “tour guide” was former Gov. Angus King, who founded Independence Wind with business partner Robert Gardiner, the former director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Each of the four bus tours had about 25 people.
Record Hill Wind is a 50.6 megawatt wind project consisting of 22 turbines arrayed along four miles of ridgeline that connects Partridge Peak, Record Hill and Flathead Mountain.
“Each turbine makes enough electricity for a year for a thousand homes,” King told people on the final bus of the day. “The turbines are connected underground, lead into one place, then above ground and come into the power grid in Rumford. There was an existing right of way with a powerline in it, but the wires weren’t big enough, so we had to upgrade that right of way.”
“Some of you might have seen a helicopter? What they were doing was helping to lay a new wire along the right of way into Rumford that will take the power into the grid,” he said.
As the bus turned off Route 120 onto the road for the project, King noted, “Be aware that you’re seeing a construction site. The first part of the road up the mountain is an old logging road. The road is 18 feet wide, a little smaller than a regular road.”
There is five miles of road, constructed entirely of materials from the mountain; nothing was brought in.
“There are very extensive rock ditches along the sides of the road. We spent a lot of time and effort to prevent erosion,” said King. “A lot of people were worried that there would be erosion that would end up in the pond, and I’m told there hasn’t been any, even with the 10 inches of rain during the hurricane. It worked. The work included special ponds and erosion control fences.
He then talked about what people were there to see, the wind turbines. At this point, King said a dozen of the 22 wind turbines have been constructed. They are being built at a rate of three per week.
“Each turbine costs a little over $3 million. The total cost of the project is about $125 million, $70 to $75 million for the turbines and the rest for things like the road, the engineering, environmental and permitting. Around each turbine is a clearing of one to two acres to allow room to put the blades on and then lift them up. Once that’s done and the turbines are built, they can let that grow back,” said King.
As part of the financing commitment, the Yale University Endowment is a major sponsor of the project, working with the Independence Wind, LLC and Wagner Wind Energy I, LLC of Lyme, NH to bring the project to completion.
The main stop of the last bus of the day was at the fifth turbine at a location called T-18.
The rain let up as everyone exited the bus. Greeting them was a pretty constant breeze and the sight of four of the wind towers. After asking a couple questions, people began taking pictures. Unfortunately, the view of the valley below was obscured by the storm cover.
Project manager Mike Novello noted that each one of the turbines has a weather station which tracks the weather, the wind speed and direction. The blades then twist to the right angle to capture the wind.
He said the startup for the wind farm should be before the end of the year, but before that can happen, a crew of 14 people will work to test every connection to make sure the towers are all communicating.
King noted, “It’s like wiring your DVD (player) at home, times a thousand.”
He said the blades will make four rotations per minute and turn 80 percent of the time.
Gordon Gamble of Wagner Forest Management, who also serves as a Roxbury selectman, also assisted with questions on the bus tour. People then visited the tent he thought to set up for the day for people to stop for cider and doughnuts, and to ask more questions.
Good thing for the tent because during this time, a band of heavy rain took hold.
Not long after, it was back on the bus to a site that still had the wind tower pieces. The windows on one side of the bus were opened so people could take photos.
Further down the road, people saw the huge crane owned by Reed & Reed called Big Red. This machine weighs an astounding one million pounds. With the bus windows coming down again, there was no way to do justice to this piece of machinery at this close a distance.
King said the crane, which moves the pieces of the turbine, is so big that they had to take it up the mountain in pieces by 22 truck loads and it was built at the top. The crane goes from the first site, to the next, and so on. When the crane is finished, it will be taken apart again, and the road will be allowed to grow back to 18 feet again.
The contractor in charge of all the work is Reed & Reed of Woolwich, located near Bath. King said that historically, this company was bridge and road builders, but about five years ago, they got into wind power and have now built all the wind projects in Maine, and now they are working on a couple in New Hampshire and Vermont.
“On a normal day, they have anywhere from 60 to 90 people working on this project, with an average pay of $25 to $35 an hour,” said King, adding that Reed & Reed is also dealing with a total of 89 different Maine businesses as part of this contract.
“These businesses do everything from supplying loam for the reclaiming, engineering, the road building and sandwiches.”
The turbines are made overseas in Germany by Siemens and manufactured in Denmark. From there, they are brought in by ship to Searsport and up the Maine road.
“The truck that brings the turbine piece, I’m told, is the largest truck in America, with 19 axles to distribute the weight evenly so it doesn’t harm the road, and takes something like 11 hours to get from Searsport to here,” said King.
The 22 turbines are in a long string along the ridge. King said the two ends have to have pulsing red lights on top, along with every fourth turbine.
“Supposedly, the light is designed so that it is put into a cup, so an airplane can see it but we’re not supposed to be able to.”
There is also a permanent meteorological tower. “We’ve overbuilt that and offered it to Verizon to put a cellular repeater up there. If any of you are Verizon customers, bug ’em because it’s all wired and everything. All they have to do is decide to put it up,” said King.
Independence Wind is also currently developing a second wind project in Highland Plantation.