AURORA – A public meeting on a request by First Wind to build taller wind turbines at its proposed new wind farm in Hancock County lasted all of four minutes last week.
The meeting, held Sept. 25 in the gymnasium at the Airline Community School, drew an audience of 11. Among that number were several First Wind employees and a reporter. Four representatives of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) sat at a head table to field questions that never came.
First Wind is seeking to erect 17 turbines that are 574 feet high, from the ground to the tip of the highest turbine blade, at a new wind farm called Hancock Wind. That facility will be located in Township 16 and Township 22, (located east of Eastbrook and Osborn, respectively) and near the company’s existing 19-tubrine Bull Hill wind farm.
That height is a change from the company’s original plan, which called for 18 turbines that would have been up to 512 feet in height. That plan was approved by DEP in July of 2013, but the proposal must be reviewed again now that First Wind is looking to use turbines that are 12.1 percent taller.
The Sept. 25 meeting began at 6 p.m., and lasted just long enough for DEP Deputy Commissioner Heather Parent to thank audience members for attending, tell them the DEP values public input and how people could speak that night or send comments after the meeting.
“It is important we afford everybody the chance to be heard,” she said.
When Parent asked if anyone in the room wanted to speak, however, no one did.
“This is a very short meeting,” said Parent, as she gaveled it closed at 6:04 p.m. Asked if that was a record, Parent said it was a record for her. First Wind staff did not seem displeased with the shortness of the meeting.
The comparatively light turnout – a meeting on Hancock Wind in the same location in the spring of 2013 drew a crowd of about 40 – may have resulted, at least in part, from sparse public notice of the meeting.
DEP posted a bulletin about the meeting on its website at 4:46 p.m. on Sept. 23, just over 48 hours in advance of the meeting. That bulletin also was sent to media outlets including The Ellsworth American.
Agency spokesman Jessamine Logan said letters were sent to two parties who had appealed DEP’s earlier approval of the Hancock Wind project – those appeals were rejected by the Board of Environmental Protection in December of 2013 – and a public notice also was posted in the Bangor Daily News.
That notice appeared on page D3 in the Sept. 16 edition, along with other public notices. Unlike the bulletin posted Sept. 23, it gave no indication that the meeting was being held by the DEP, that the change to Hancock Wind was taller turbines or that public input was being sought.
The notice in the Bangor Daily reads in its entirety: “A meeting will be held at the Airline Community School on September 25, 2014 from 6-8 PM. The project is an amendment of the Hancock Wind LLC Project.”
Three audience members indicated they only knew about the meeting because of an article that had appeared in The American that week. That article was based on the Sept. 23 bulletin.
Anyone who wishes to comment on First Wind’s amended proposal can do so by emailing Hancockwindproject.firstname.lastname@example.org., or by writing to Maria Eggett, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, 106 Hogan Road, Suite 6, Bangor, ME 04401.
There is no deadline for commenting on the proposal, and DEP staff said there is not yet a timeline of when a decision will be made on First Wind’s proposal.
The amendment and DEP’s draft staff analysis can be viewed by going to the DEP’s website and searching for “Hancock Wind.”
Dave Fowler, First Wind’s director of development for the New England region, said after the Sept. 25 meeting that the company amended its proposal because of “improved economics.”
“The taller machines get more production in the wind,” he said. The larger diameter of the turbine blades, he said, means the turbine is “capturing more and better wind speed.”
Fowler said production at Bull Hill has been “unbelievable,” and that the location is among the best-producing facilities in the company’s fleet of 17 wind farms. Only the company’s Hawaii wind facilities are doing better, Fowler said.
Hancock Wind will be at a slightly lower elevation than Bull Hill, Fowler said, which is another reason for going to taller turbines.
“We’re trying to get back up to that Bull Hill wind,” he said.
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