Maine wind-power site taking shape, will produce 42 megawatts from 28 turbines

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Kevin Rooney

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Sep 15, 2003
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I saw this article in the Barre Times-Argus today, and found it interesting. I know many on this board have strong feelings, both pro and con, on the viability and siting of wind power. Overall, I found the article even-handed.

The article itself, along with a photo, is here.

August 7, 2006

By Glenn Adams Associated Press

MARS HILL, Maine — At the crest of a mountain ridge that hugs northern Maine's border with Canada and shares names with the potato-growing town below, what will become New England's biggest wind-power development so far is quietly taking shape.

A road following the spine of Mars Hill Mountain has been blazed through the thick woods and now connects in dot-to-dot fashion 28 flattened sites where 262-foot high turbines will rise. A contract is to be awarded soon to pour foundations for the turbines, which are being built in Canada.

Once the turbines go up, immense windmill blades — each 115 feet long — will be fixed to the towers spaced at six or seven per mile. Evergreen Wind Power, developers of the $55 million Mars Hill Wind Farm, hopes to begin cranking out power this year.

"The project is large by New England standards," said Peter Gish, general counsel and managing director of UPC Wind Management LLC of Newton, Mass., Evergreen's parent company. UPC is also proposing a major wind development in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.

Overlooking breathtaking vistas of green, checkerboard fields spreading out from the mountain's base and forests and mountains farther in the distance, the 42-megawatt Mars Hill project will provide enough power to supply about 45,000 average Maine homes at full capacity, in effect all of northern Maine's Aroostook County.

Wind turbines usually operate below capacity, but even at 35 percent, Mars Hill will still crank out enough power for at least 22,000 homes, the developers say. Talks to determine a buyer for the wind project's power are continuing.

The project will stand out in New England, home to the highest recorded wind speeds in the mainland U.S., and, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the birthplace of wind power in America.

What was once the world's largest electricity-producing windmill was installed in 1941 at Grandpa's Knob, Vt., and razed in 1946. The DOE says the world's first wind development, which had 20 wind turbines, was built in 1980 at Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire. It ended up a failure.

Today, the only other New England wind power sites capable of producing enough power for commercial distribution — or "utility scale" in industry terminology — are an 11-turbine, 6 megawatt wind project that's operated in Searsburg, Vt., for nearly a decade, and sites in Princeton, Hull and Buzzards Bay, Mass., says the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group based in Washington.

More than 10 large and small wind-power facilities are on line in the region.

More could be on their way. A proposed 24-megawatt project in Lempster, N.H., is under regulatory review. A 13.5-megawatt project in western Massachusetts' Berkshires is moving through the regulatory process.

Two of New England's most ambitious proposals call for a 120-turbine, 468-megawatt wind development in Buzzards Bay and the 130-turbine, 420-megawatt Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound off the Massachusetts coast. The AWEA counts more than a dozen proposed sites in the six-state region, including at least five in Vermont.

"It's clear," Evergreen's Gish says, "that wind power has captured the imagination of many people." But not everyone.

Projects become bogged down in the permitting process and end up being pulled by developers, said Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which supports wind power in general but has taken issue with some projects.

"If you look across New England, I would say that prospects of wind power are not very bright," said Didisheim, who sees the industry in "a sort of hurry-up-and-wait" situation in New England.

While wind power is undisputedly clean, opponents cite visual intrusions wind turbines can become. Some environmentalists wince at the potential harm caused to birds and bats. Others say they are noisy and inefficient, and cause erosion.

New England's high population density creates more opportunity for opposition groups to organize, said AWEA's Kathy Belyeu.

"With New England, siting tends to be more difficult," Belyeu added.

In Maine, there was support and opposition to a proposal to build 30 wind turbines on top of Black Nubble and Redington Pond Range mountains as state regulators opened three days of hearings on the proposal Wednesday.

The 90-megawatt Maine Mountain Power project would turn out enough power for about 40,000 households and offset the need to pump hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollutants into the air, says Endless Energy Corp. of Yarmouth and Edison Mission Group of Irvine, Calif., partners in the project.

Constellation NewEnergy, a subsidiary of Baltimore-based Constellation Energy, has already agreed to buy all of its output.

But the proposed wind project four miles west of the Sugarloaf USA ski area faces opposition even from conservation and outdoors groups who say it presents a threat to a rare bird, the Bicknell's thrush, and other species and would mar vistas along the Appalachian Trail.

The Natural Resources Council proposes chopping the project nearly in half, which developers say would doom it. However, the council endorsed the Mars Hill project.

Elsewhere in Maine, commercially sized wind power projects are proposed in northern Aroostook County and on Kibby Mountain in the western mountains; there are also smaller projects in Freedom and Deer Isle.

Wind power has made greater strides in other regions. Texas, whose warm range breezes push out 2,370 megawatts of wind-powered electricity, has overtaken California as the state with the most installed capacity from wind power, said Belyeu.

The Plains States are another wind-power hot spot, with their wide open spaces and strong winds luring developers.

In New England, Mars Hill's developers believe they avoided the kinds of opposition other wind projects have confronted because they picked an ideal location.

Gish said Mars Hill is already partially developed with a ski area, several communication towers and access roads. He also said it is not in an environmentally sensitive area where bird migration is an issue.

The project also has the support of a strong majority of the town's 1,480 residents — perhaps 80 to 90 percent — said Mars Hill Town Manager Raymond Mersereau.

Some people in town were unhappy that the familiar mountain's appearance would be changed, a concern Mersereau, a native of the area, said he understands.

But Mersereau said the benefits, such as $500,000 in new tax revenues for each of the next 20 years, will take the sting away. Besides lowering property taxes, the project will create jobs and might even become a tourist draw.

"There's the gawk effect of people coming here," said Mersereau.
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That was a good article. I read it in the Bangor Daily News this weekend. I, too, think it was a very informative, even-handed article.

Given the timing, I expected it to talk a lot more about the Redington project but it just mentioned it in passing, really.

anyway, I think the Mars Hill project is awesome! Put it where:

1) there is plenty of continuous wind
2) it's already developed
3) it won't ruin existing viewsheds
4) and the locals all love it (80-90% local approval)

This is a perfect example of properly sited wind industry. I wish I could say the same for some of the other sites being proposed.

Nice article... I enjoyed reading it.
Sorry, but since I come from North of Mars Hill, I have another view. I think there was not much opposition in part because not many people call Mars Hill their back yard. Aroostook County has long been the object of a "too far away to care about" attitude.

As far as I'm concerned, they can put a turbine in my back yard (on the beautiful coast of Maine) anytime. Good sea breezes, too, and better for most of us than the oil-fired plant on Cousins Island (except, of course, those who work there).
Interesting article!

Sounds like the developers of the Mars Hill project have considered most or all of the important site-selection issues that have been problematic for many other proposed wind projects. Perhaps they'll set a standard for other wind projects to follow. I'd love to see more wind and other renewable energy production in New England...but not at the cost of other environmental concerns.

I'm skeptical about this part, though:
Kevin Rooney said:
(actually, quoting the article that Kevin quoted)...But Mersereau said the benefits, such as $500,000 in new tax revenues for each of the next 20 years, will take the sting away. Besides lowering property taxes, the project will create jobs and might even become a tourist draw.

"There's the gawk effect of people coming here," said Mersereau.[/I]

Developers always say that stuff...but how often does it really happen? I've never seen it, myself.
For those who are not familiar with the area, Mars Hill is surrounded for miles by agricultural lands that have been farmed for a long time. I suspect that the locals just regard it as another way to "farm" the soil. The area also has extremely high electric rates. I seem to remember reading that there was another developer in the area trying to secure additional locations for turbines.