ROCKWOOD STRIP – More than 100 people packed the Rockwood Community Center Wednesday afternoon to help answer the question raised by a group opposed to proposed wind farms – will Massachusetts energy policy destroy the Moosehead Lake region.
The answer for many was loud and clear: “Save our mountains – No Wind Farms.”
Residents rose following a Power Point presentation by Richard McDonald, president of the anti-wind citizen group Saving Maine, and a member of the steering committee Moosehead Region Futures to voice concerns over the future of the rich aquifer that feeds Moosehead Lake and the long, deep Shirley Bog if the ridge lines are blasted away to make room for industrial wind turbines.
Residents said they feared the 500-foot tall turbines would adversely affect the aviation tradition on the lake, culminating every fall with the Greenville Fly-in.
“There’s a lot at stake,” McDonald told the group. “The view and the wilderness experience. There’s a future at stake if you want to develop tourism in the area, the turbines pose a serious threat to the region.”
Scott Hinton, who described himself as “just a schmuck from Greenville” said the fact that the pristine aquifer and the traditional Fly-In could be in jeopardy are frightening thoughts. He said the roads that will be needed to bring in the giant turbine blades – larger than the ones in place in Bingham – would ruin the region.
“How could you guarantee the aquifer would not be damaged,” he said. “Also the aviators, I can’t imagine what it would do to flying, which is one of our big deals. It’s a very big weekend.”
Clyde MacDonald said he worries about turbine fires because each unit is basically a “350-foot-high gas tank.” He called on state political leaders to “fight the uphill battle.”
A local woman, Karen Elwood, rose to ask if the Forest Society of Maine, which holds some of the easements to area land, could step in and put pressure on the Legislature to stop wind power in the Moosehead Lake region.
Chris King, also of Greenville, assured her and others that “there are things we can do to fight it” based on Maine law.
“It’s not all doom and gloom,” he said. “There is a process.”
The short term gains, as is seen in Bingham with that wind project generating annual payments to the town, is low compared to the long term loss, McDonald said. He said it would be a loss of a way of life and of the livelihoods of area residents.
Greenville and the Moosehead Lake region is a tourist destination, with lake shore businesses, lodging, restaurants, shops and all the supporting businesses that fuel the local economy, he said.
There are more than 200 new wind turbines proposed in rural Somerset County just west of Greenville, according to McDonald.
McDonald said that while permits for new wind projects have yet to be filed, the prospect of 500-foot tall turbines along ridges in the remote townships of Johnson Mountain, Chase Stream and Misery, is not welcome.
He said the Somerset Wind project has been proposed by NRG, a large renewable energy and power producer with offices in Texas and New Jersey. There also is what is being called the EverPower Project, along the Big Moose Mountain ridge line near Big Indian Pond, he said. Each would have 26 or 28 wind turbines, generating between 78 and 93 megawatts of power.
He said a company called NextEra also has proposed two or three large industrial wind projects in the Eustis area of Franklin County.
All together, wind projects could result in 204 new wind turbines generating 703 megawatts of power.
The driving force, he said earlier this week, is to win the bid for a 20-year power purchase agreement with the state of Massachusetts utilities for more than 100 wind turbines. The projects were among the 24 bids received by New England Clean Energy RFP, part of a group of agencies and electric utilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island that issued a request for proposals for energy projects last November to help them meet their clean-energy goals and fight climate change.
He said if the Massachusetts project does not include Somerset County, then the next round from Connecticut would follow.
Another important part of the plan, McDonald said, would be a 145-mile transmission line by Central Maine Power Co. to get the power to Massachusetts from west of Eustis to Johnson Mountain, The Forks, West Forks – right over the Dead River – then down to Moscow, Pittsfield and finally to southern Maine. He said it would be 1,400 feet wide.
David Gaier, the NRG East Region senior director and spokesman in New Jersey, said Monday that the Somerset Wind project is still in its infancy.
“Last year NRG acquired the rights to build the Somerset Wind project, but at this point we’re only in the early project development stage,” Gaier said in an email Monday afternoon. “We’re looking forward to continuing the development process in the coming months and we’ll make more information available when appropriate.”
John Carroll, a spokesman for Central Maine Power Co., said Monday that he is familiar with the Somerset Wind project proposed by NRG. He said CMP put in bids for the “green power” corridor connection from northern Franklin County and Quebec, through Somerset County to Massachusetts.
A coalition of utilities and state agencies in southern New England failed to select any Maine-based wind or transmission projects to meet the region’s clean-energy goals last December, but projects that didn’t win already were looking ahead to a second chance, and an even bigger RFP process, the Portland Press Herald reported.
McDonald said Maine is being “set up” as be the power station for southern New England.
“Moosehead Region Futures has been doing this for two years and we’ve been very vocal about our concerns – our stand is that we want to defeat these projects,” McDonald said earlier this week. “You have to think about real estate; you got to think about the impact this could have on property values. Going to these areas such as Moosehead and seeing an industrialization on the scale that they’re talking about with these projects and the transmission corridor, I can see the Moosehead region taking a very heavy hit.”
Somerset County Administrator Dawn DiBlasi said Monday that county commissioners do not have a vote on placement of new wind farms, but can give a thumbs up or thumbs down consensus. She said McDonald and his group are opposed to the wind towers and commissioners know that.
Construction of the $420 million 62-turbine Bingham wind farm started in July 2015. The project generates about 185 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the equivalent of 60,000 homes. The turbines are spread across high ridges in Bingham, Mayfield Township and Kingsbury Plantation and 120 people worked on the project, both at the site and away from the site.
Opponents of the Bingham project have said wind farms detract from the scenery in rural Maine. DEP regulations state that scenic impact is only a consideration in evaluating a wind project if turbines fall within 8 miles of the area of concern.
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