A proposed wind power project in Somerset and Piscataquis counties won the support of Appalachian Trail conservation groups after a subsidiary of the company proposing the project created a $700,000 land conservation fund.
A coalition of nonprofit organizations representing the Appalachian Trail announced Tuesday that they have dropped opposition to what could be the state’s largest and most expensive wind project after Blue Sky West, a subsidiary of First Wind, agreed to take measures to protect the scenery along the trail, according to a joint statement by the company and the coalition.
The proposed 62-turbine project so far has sparked lengthy debate about noise and light pollution, quality-of-life issues, the economic benefits of wind power and the partnership of private land owners and business.
The proposed wind power generation facility in Bingham, Mayfield Township and Kingsbury Plantation would include up to five temporary meteorological towers, up to five permanent meteorological towers, an electrical collector system, an electrical substation and an operations and maintenance building. In addition, there would be a 17-mile transmission line running from Kingsbury Plantation to a Central Maine Power Co. substation in Parkman.
“Our organizations recognize that all energy generation sources have environmental impacts. The Bingham Wind project is no exception, and it will have an expected visual presence on the Appalachian Trail,” said Appalachian Mountain Club research director Ken Kimball, who worked on the agreement with First Wind. “The Appalachian Trail coalition organizations appreciate First Wind’s willingness to voluntarily work with us to mitigate this project’s impacts and to protect lands with a connection to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail viewshed.”
The Appalachian Trail Coalition groups, which include the Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Appalachian Trail Club and Appalachian Trail Conservancy, had concerns about the potential effect that this and other projects may have on the trail environment.
The Orbeton Stream Conservation Easement Project, the goal of which is to protect 5,800 acres along the trail in the western Maine high peaks area, will receive $150,000 from the conservation fund.
In addition to the dedicated conservation land fund, First Wind has agreed to propose no additional turbines to the Bingham Wind Project that would be any closer to the Appalachian Trail and to install radar-activated lights on its Bingham wind turbines once the Federal Aviation Administration approves the project.
The use of radar-activated lighting allows the required FAA lighting to remain off except when aircraft are near the project, significantly reducing the effect of night lighting.
“With these safeguards in place, our focus will shift to mitigate local impacts on the land near Bald Mountain Pond, Moxie Bald Mountain and Pleasant Pond Mountain,” said Lester Kenway, president of Maine Appalachian Trail Club, in the news release. “The club’s approach is striking a balance between protection of the Appalachian Trail with regard to the need for renewable energy.”