October 13, 2008
Wind Firm Eyes Oakfield, Rumford
By KEVIN MILLER; OF THE NEWS STAFF
The debate over wind power soon will be blowing into additional Maine towns.
First Wind, the Massachusetts company behind Maine's two largest wind energy facilities, plans to file applications with the state late this year or early next year for a facility with roughly 30 turbines in the southern Aroostook County town of Oakfield.
The company also is moving forward with plans for projects in Rumford in western Maine as well as on Grand Manan Island just across the Canadian border.
Those are in addition to the two First Wind projects that are further along in the Lincoln and Danforth areas.
"We want to do business in Maine for a long time," said Matt Kearns, vice president of business development in New England for First Wind.
Kearns declined to give an exact location for the Oakfield project, saying much depends on lease agreements with landowners and ongoing wind studies. But he said the nearest turbine would be at least one mile from downtown Oakfield, which is west of Houlton just off Interstate 95.
There are numerous ridgelines in and around Oakfield, including several mountains east of downtown. Because all of the turbines would be within town limits, the application for the 49-megawatt project would be processed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Kearns said.
Oakfield Town Manager Dale Morris said recently that about 75 people attended a recent forum on the project.
As at Mars Hill, electricity generated by the Oakfield turbines would flow into the New Brunswick power grid, which then sells power back to the New England grid. First Wind could elect to connect directly to the New England grid if new transmission lines proposed for the area are built.
Formerly known as UPC Wind, First Wind made history in March 2007 when it began commercial operations at the company's Mars Hill wind farm in southern Aroostook. That project remains controversial with some neighbors who have complained about excessive noise and who accuse the company of misleading residents about the sound levels and economic benefits to the area.
But since completion of the Mars Hill facility, First Wind has moved aggressively to develop additional projects in order to capitalize on growing public interest in renewable energy and substantial federal subsidies.
A 38-turbine facility along Stetson Mountain in northern Washington County is largely complete and could be operational by December, according to documents First Wind filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The company is completing plans for a second, smaller Stetson Mountain project just north of the current facility, as well as a 40- turbine project within the communities of Lincoln, Lee, Winn and Burlington.
The Lincoln-area projects have received a mixed response from local residents. Some regard the proposed wind farm as a positive source of clean energy and much-needed tax revenues to the towns. Others, however, fear the nearly 400-foot-tall turbines will create noise and flickering lights, disturb wildlife and ruin the scenic value of the area.
First Wind also bought permits for a 13-turbine wind farm on the eastern side of Grand Manan Island. Kearns said the company plans to break ground on that project next spring.
"It's fully permitted, we just purchased the permits from the other developer," Kearns said.
Other companies also are pushing forward with wind energy projects.
Justin Dawe with Texas-based Horizon Wind said the company plans to file permit applications with state regulators early next year for a facility near Number 9 Mountain outside of Bridgewater.
The Bridgewater project, which is expected to involve more than 100 turbines, would be the first stage in Horizon's plan for more than 400 windmills in Aroostook County.
TransCanada also has begun construction of a 132-megawatt wind power facility involving 44 turbines on Kibby Mountain and Kibby Range, located in the mountains of rural Franklin County near the Canadian border.
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