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Residents divided over potential wind project in Orland

ORLAND, Maine – A new three-turbine wind project may be coming to this town within the next two years. In a vote on Tuesday, residents will have the opportunity to say whether or not they support the project.

The Portsmouth-based company Eolian Renewable Energy has proposed a project on Whites Mountain in the northern part of Orland, very close to the town’s borders with Ellsworth, Dedham and Bucksport.

If the project gets underway, Orland would join communities across Maine that have turbines either under construction or in use. There are currently nine completed wind projects in operation in Maine, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Seventeen other projects are at varying stages of development. The industry has taken off in Maine relatively quickly – the first project was completed only six years ago in Mars Hill.

Though the details of the plan have not been ironed out, Eolian Vice President John Soininen said the turbines would likely be between 400 and 500 feet tall and produce about nine megawatts of power – enough to supply 2,700 average Maine homes with energy per year, he said.

About 20 Orland and Dedham residents showed up for an informational meeting at Orland’s community center on Wednesday night, where representatives from the wind industry answered questions and provided information about the potential project.

Those who attended the event expressed varying views on the project.

Steve Crawford was worried that the value of his 100 acres of land, which would abut the project, would diminish if the turbines were built.

“They haven’t done any research on the fiscal impact on the abutting properties,” he said of the developers.

Pam Letarte, another would-be neighbor to the turbines, was also against the project.

“We have a drilled well and we have a spring,” she said. “Are we going to lose our water supply once they start blasting?”

Dedham residents, who would be able to see the turbines from their homes across the town border, were also at the meeting. Originally Eolian Renewable Energy hoped to build the turbines in Orland and Dedham, but the plan changed because that town’s ordinance is too restrictive, according to Soininen.

Donald Bickford, an Orland resident and retired electrician, said he thought the project made a lot of sense for Orland and for the country as a whole.

“I’d like to see us being less dependent on foreign oil,” he said. “I don’t like to be buying oil from countries that hate us.”

Bickford added that the $150,000 the developers would pay in taxes to the town of Orland also was appealing.

Selectman Ed Rankin said he wasn’t sure how the town would vote. He said attendees at a town meeting back in June were evenly divided as to whether or not they supported the project.

Travis Bullard, of Eolian Renewable Energy, said that if 51 percent of the voters indicated they were not supportive of the plan, they probably would not go forward with it.

“We’re essentially asking people, if we were to comply with your local rules, the state rules and the federal rules, would you support it?” he said.

If the vote is positive, the next steps will be to conduct further environmental review of the property, continue design work on the turbines and then figure out who they would sell the power to.

“Our intention is to sell the power to a Maine utility,” said Soininen.

The environmental reviews would include studies on the sound and aesthetic impact in the area. The company Tetra Tech would conduct studies on the project’s impact on bird migration, bat activity and vernal pools, according to Aaron Svedlow of Tetra Tech, who was also at the Wednesday meeting.

Soininen is aware of some of the residents’ issues with the project.

“What are we going to do to assuage these concerns? We are going to comply with the ordinance,” he said. “We don’t believe there will be any direct impact to property values.”

Eolian Renewable Energy was founded five years ago and has wind projects in Maine, Vermont and Pennsylvania.

“Wind is by far the most cost-effective renewable resource that we can develop today,” said Soininen.