By Steve Fuller, The Ellsworth American reporter
The Ellsworth American news story
EASTBROOK — First Wind presented its plans for a third wind farm in Hancock County to the public Dec. 4, with a small army of experts in tow to answer any questions.
The Boston-based wind energy company, slated to be sold to Midwest solar developers in early 2015, wants to erect 23 turbines as part of what would be called Weaver Wind (named for nearby Weaver Ridge). Eight of the turbines would be located in Eastbrook, while the other 15 would be in Osborn.
The wind farm would have a generating capacity of 72 megawatts (MW) of electricity. First Wind wants to use turbines that have a total height (ground level to the highest point of the turbine blade) of either 574 or 591 feet.
This project would mark a first for First Wind in Hancock County. Its other two projects — the operational 19-turbine Bull Hill and the planned 17-turbine Hancock Wind — are both located in unorganized territory. This project would be the company’s first local project built in municipalities.
About 30 people gathered at the Eastbrook town office and community center on Dec. 4 for an open-house-style meeting to learn more about the project.
Jim Cassida, First Wind’s permitting and compliance manager, gave a brief overview of the project and then invited audience members to speak with one of the dozen professionals lining the back wall of the room standing alongside an equal number of color charts, maps and photos.
The experts and the materials they brought with them addressed everything from the potential visual and aural impact of the project to what effect it would have on birds.
“Our design team has worked hard to try and limit the environmental impact of the towers,” Cassida said.
He said the meeting was required by state law, but told audience members that “more importantly it’s an opportunity to interact with you.”
One audience member — state Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst) — asked two questions of Cassida before the audience dispersed to mingle, however. Lockman asked if First Wind would be willing to have a third party analyze its finances in order to independently verify it can meet requirements set by the state.
Cassida said he was not prepared to answer that but said the company would “take it under advisement.” He gave the same answer when Lockman asked if First Wind would postpone taking any action on Weaver Wind until the sale of the company was completed.
Cassida did, however, later say that First Wind intends to file the necessary paperwork for Weaver Wind before the end of 2014. Under the company’s tentative timeline, the project would receive its needed permits and other approvals next year, with construction starting in 2016 and the wind farm beginning operation in 2017.
A handout available at the meeting reported the project would require about 14.5 miles of electrical lines in order to get the power generated by the turbines onto the grid. Cassida said most of those lines would be buried underground, beneath a mix of existing logging roads and new roads constructed for the project.
The lines will feed into the existing substation at the Bull Hill wind farm in Township 16, which ties into the electrical grid via Emera Maine transmission lines. The Weaver Wind project also would use part of an operations and maintenance building planned for the Hancock Wind facility, set to be built in Aurora.
Hermon resident Rob Jernigan has a camp in Osborn on Spectacle Pond, which would be in the center of the Weaver Wind project. He came to the Dec. 4 meeting with his wife, Sarah.
Jernigan said they were most interested in finding out where the turbines would be located, and said the maps on display helped answer his questions.
Another aspect of the project is the financial benefit to towns and local organizations. State law requires any developer such as First Wind to provide a minimum of $4,000 per turbine for two decades to host communities. Such payments are separate from and in addition to any property taxes the company owes.
Charlie Baldwin, development project coordinator for First Wind, said the company is still working out how much it will pay in community benefits and tangible benefits for Weaver Wind. Past examples of tangible benefits include payments to the Acadia Area ATV Club and Downeast Salmon Federation.
One group that stands to benefit from the Weaver Wind project is the Lower Lead Mountain Pond Association, a camp owners association with about 36 members. Weaver Wind turbines may be visible from some sites on Lower Lead Mountain Pond, located to the northeast of the proposed project.
Dennis King, a member of the group, said First Wind is going to help the group build a new dam at the pond.
“First Wind has been really good to work with,” he said.
King said he will probably be able to see the turbines from his camp, but said it “doesn’t really bother us” because of the distance from the turbines.
Roger Waterman, a former selectman in the town of Osborn who is still involved in town affairs, said whatever First Wind ends up making in payments — both in community benefits and in property taxes — to the town it will have a significant effect.
“It will have an appreciable impact on the tax rate,” he said. “But then you’ve got to balance it with what is the experience of the people living on [Spectacle Pond].