PORTLAND, Maine – A wind farm first proposed in southern Aroostook County in 2007 is back on the table.
EDP Renewables North America LLC, based in Houston, is pursuing development of a 250-megawatt wind farm roughly nine miles west of Bridgewater. The company calls it the Number Nine Wind Farm.
At 250 megawatts, the wind farm, if approved, would be the largest in New England when measured by capacity. Currently, the largest wind farm in the region is TransCanada’s Kibby Mountain wind farm in northern Franklin County, which has the capacity to generate 132 megawatts.
EDP Renewables North America’s plans were revealed in late September when Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy announced that the company had signed long-term power purchase agreements with the state’s two major electric utilities – Connecticut Light and Power and United Illuminating.
Developers of wind farms are looking to Maine with increased interest as technology improves and states pass laws requiring more power be supplied from renewable resources.
EDP Renewables is actively looking at other sites in Maine, according to Katie Chapman, the company’s project manager on the Aroostook County project.
“Northern Maine has been called the Holy Grail of wind because there’s a lot of resources up there,” she told the Bangor Daily News in an interview Tuesday. “If you can figure out how to get the transmission, the sky is the limit.”
Chapman and Jeff Bishop, a member of the company’s government relations team, were in Maine this week meeting with stakeholders.
The company plans to open a new office in the Presque Isle area within the next two months, Chapman said, adding that transparency and open dialogue are central to the company’s plans in the state.
“I’m personally willing to meet with anyone willing to talk,” Chapman said.
While the farm’s capacity will be 250 megawatts, the number of turbines used to generate that amount is still undetermined. The company is considering turbines that can generate between 2.5 and 3 megawatts apiece, which would mean the total number of turbines needed could range between 83 and 100, Adam Renz, a company spokesman, told the BDN on Monday.
The company has leased 58,500 square feet of land from a timberland company where it wants to build the farm, but the actual footprint of the project – turbines, substation and roads – would take up less than 3 percent of that space, according to Bishop.
The company has not begun the permitting process. It plans to begin that process next fall, once all its environmental studies are complete, Chapman said. The timeline calls for construction to begin in 2015 to have the wind farm be operational in 2016. Chapman said the project would create at least 300 temporary construction jobs in The County.
Houston-based Horizon Wind first proposed the Number Nine Wind Farm in 2007. At the time, the company opened an office in Presque Isle, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with then-Gov. John Baldacci.
Madrid, Spain-based EDP Renewables acquired Horizon Wind in July 2007, changing its name to EDP Renewables North America. It remains headquartered in Houston and currently operates 29 wind farms in 11 states.
EDP Renewables kept the Presque Isle office open until 2011, but challenges at the time – namely how to efficiently transmit the electricity to the New England grid and the availability of long-term contracts for electricity generated from renewable resources – forced the company to mothball the project, according to Chapman.
But transmission technology has improved to the point where projects can be built with more efficiency, Chapman said.
In addition, states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have passed laws that require their utilities to source a larger percentage of their power from renewable resources, according to Todd Griset, an attorney at Preti Flaherty in Portland who focuses on the energy sector.
Massachusetts renewable portfolio standards call for 15 percent of electricity to be provided by new renewable resources by 2020, while Connecticut’s renewable portfolio standards require 20 percent of consumed power be provided by new renewable resources by 2020, Griset said.
These statutory requirements increase demand for wind projects in the region and create more opportunities for wind farm developers to secure long-term power purchase agreements.
While it’s “very hard to site a new project in Connecticut,” it’s much less difficult to do so in Maine, Griset said. A combination of Maine’s abundant resources and a “more permissive siting culture” make Maine an attractive place for wind farm developers such as EDP Renewables and First Wind, which also recently signed a long-term power purchase agreement with utilities in Massachusetts to supply energy from wind farms it has under development in Maine, Griset said.
“The demand for building new wind projects in Maine will be driven more by policies in states like Connecticut and Massachusetts, which have high demand and a willingness to pay for that electricity, than it will be by policies here in Maine,” Griset said. “The one exception is siting. That’s the one piece Maine has the best control over.”
Bishop, the company’s director of government relations, said the company is not fazed by the apparent stiffening of wind farm permitting rules by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
He said polls show that Maine residents support the wind power industry.
“As the economic development of these projects is fully realized, we hope the support will continue to grow,” Bishop said.
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