Apex Clean Energy, headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., is on track to break ground for its 30-turbine Downeast Wind project in Washington County in 2021.
Representing a private investment of more than $270 million, the project is a 126-megawatt wind energy development located in the town of Columbia and the unorganized areas of MD T18, MD T19 and MD T24, in Washington County. The project will include 30 wind turbines and associated infrastructure, including an operations and maintenance building, collector and transmission lines, access roads, crane paths and construction laydown areas.
Apex representatives held an informational meeting on the project in Columbia in December.
“This would be our first large-scale renewable project in New England,” Paul Williamson, a senior development manager with the company, told Mainebiz.
Established in 2009, Apex has about 200 employees and has completed 13 wind and solar facilities in Texas, Oklahoma and Illinois, according to its website.
The $270 million figure represents total investment in the project, including turbine contracts. Of the $270 million, $85 million will be a direct investment in Washington County – on things like construction costs, infrastructure improvements and landowner payments.
“If everything goes as planned we’ll get our applications in this spring,” he said. “That should line us up to start building the project late in 2021. The bulk of construction will be in 2022. The goal is to be operational by the end of 2022.”
Washington County attracted the company for its expansive tracts of land, verified wind resource and existing high-voltage power lines, he said.
“The property we’re interested in is situated on an elevated plain near coastal areas, so it’s a steady wind resource site,” he said.
Apex has been working on the project since 2013. Since then, it’s signed leases with 36 landowners. Of those, it’s selected five of the properties as suitable for installation, Williamson said.
The selected landscape is dominated by blueberry barrens.
“We’re working mostly with partners in blueberry and forest product production,” he said. “One major thing we need is continuous, wide-open space. You can achieve that by coming up with lease agreements with major landowners that own thousands of acres or by putting together contiguous properties.”
Landowners who host turbines on their property will receive annual lease payments over the life of the wind farm.
Other parameters include consistent wind. Overall, Maine has an intermittent wind that blows about 30% of the time. Washington County, he explained, is relatively robust, and wind blows there on average 38% of the time. That’s enough to qualify as “strong wind,” he said. “And the technology for wind turbines has advanced so you can get consistent output from wind like this. The landscape of berry barrens and open space encourages that.”
Williamson said Apex plans to install V150 4.2-megawatt turbines made by Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark. The V150 has 240-foot-long blades and a steel tower about 800 feet high, according to its website. It’s designed as an onshore low-wind turbine that requires less than a half-acre of land.
Downeast Wind is expected to create hundreds of temporary construction jobs and about 10 full-time local jobs for operations and maintenance.
Apex is working with Maine Department of Environmental Protection and local communities on project planning and permitting and continues to seek input from area residents regarding the development process.
Apex is also lining up tax increment financing agreements with the municipalities and with the county, Williamson said. It’s also developing “community benefit agreements” that include targeted investments based on guidance from the communities, he said.
It’s expected the TIFs and community benefit agreements will result in payments, over the 20-year life of the project, of $11.9 million to the county and $7.9 million to the municipalities, he said.
Because the wind project will be visible from homes around Schoodic Lake, the agreements include a one-time payment of $350,000 to property owners there, for the purpose of property improvements, he said. The project will be visible from other vantage points in Columbia and the unorganized territories, but isn’t expected to be visible from state-designated scenic resources like river, streams, lakes, some recreational hiking trials, and historic resources, he said.
The company’s noise impact studies show that, at the Schoodic Lake homes, which are closest to the project, the level will be about 42 decibels, or about the sound of a quiet office space, he said.
“We don’t expect sound to be a significant issue, but we’ll do a thorough study,” he said.
The project has been designed to avoid impacts on certain species of wildlife and their habitats, he added. For example, upland sandpipers use a certain area of blueberry barrens within the project area as habitat.
“So we’ve adjusted the design and layout significantly to move the turbines away,” he said. “At one time, we had as any as 25 turbines in that area. Now it’s five. We’re working to design this project physically and operationally to have as little impact as possible.”
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