AUGUSTA – The company behind New England’s largest wind farm is seeking regulatory approval for an even bigger, $100 million wind-energy project in a remote corner of northern Washington County.
Evergreen Wind Power LLC hopes to build 38 wind turbines on Stetson Mountain, a rural ridgeline that runs along Route 169 between the communities of Danforth and Springfield. The company said the turbines could be operating by the beginning of next year.
Each of the turbines would measure nearly 400 feet from base to blade tip. Collectively, they would generate approximately 57 megawatts of electricity for the New England power grid, according to an application filed with the Land Use Regulation Commission. The LURC staff is reviewing the application for completeness.
As proposed, the project is even larger than the company’s Mars Hill Wind Farm, which came on line earlier this year. That would make the Stetson Mountain project the largest wind farm in New England, although another company is seeking LURC approval for a 44-turbine farm in northern Franklin County near the Canadian border.
Officials with Evergreen Wind Power could not be reached for comment. But in documents filed with LURC, the Bangor-based company said the Stetson Mountain site is far enough from residential development to minimize concerns about noise. Neighbors near the Mars Hill facility have complained about noise from the spinning turbines.
Additionally, the company’s application states that Stetson Mountain is not a particularly high-value scenic area. That could help the application avoid the fate of a 30-turbine farm proposed for mountains of western Maine. LURC is poised to reject that Redington project based, in large part, on concerns about how the turbines will harm views from the Appalachian Trail and the Sugarloaf/USA ski resort.
“Indeed, one of the reasons this site is optimal is because it does not require LURC to make an either/or choice when considering the balance between important ecological values and Maine’s interest in the development of wind power,” the application reads.
Several paragraphs later, the company adds: “In short, while it may not be the only viable wind power site in the state, from an environmental perspective, it is clearly one of the best viable sites.”
Of course, more than three dozen turbines standing nearly 400 feet in the air are bound to have an impact on the local scenery.
The turbines would be clearly visible on the horizon to anyone standing at the public boat launch onto Baskahegan Lake near Brookton, located about nine miles away from Stetson Mountain, according to the application.
The turbines also will have a “moderate” to “strong” visual impact on other parts of Baskahegan Lake, as well as Upper Hot Brook Lake. They also will be visible from parts of Lower Hot Brook Lake, Mud Pond and along a small portion of the Million Dollar View Scenic Byway on U.S. Route 1. The turbines are not expected to be visible from the recently constructed scenic overlooks on the byway, the company said.
On the positive side, the company estimates that the turbines will help reduce air pollution by more than 100,000 tons annually.
Maine politicians, including Gov. John Baldacci, have widely touted wind power as a key to reducing the state and region’s dependence on power plants that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But wind farms are not free of environmental concerns.
Maine’s windiest locations are often on top of mountains with fragile ecosystems. Biologists say wind turbines must be carefully located to avoid harming populations of migratory birds and bats.
Environmental groups and lovers of the outdoors also have opposed wind farms, such as the Redington project, because of its impact on vistas. In the case of the Mars Hill wind farm, local residents said they had no idea the turbines would be so noisy.
Evergreen Wind Power said one seasonal cabin is located more than 2,500 feet from the turbines. Otherwise, there are very few residential structures near the proposed location. And because Stetson Mountain and the surrounding forests have been heavily logged, there is a network of roads to and from the ridgeline.
Dylan Voorhees, energy project director with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said he has yet to delve into the application completely and, therefore, has no position yet. But the fact that the project is located in a rural area (other than the mountains of western Maine), is distant from any residential population and has an existing road network are pluses.
“It’s probably going to be a lot less controversial, … and a lot of groups are looking for less controversy right now,” Voorhees said.
Marcia Spencer-Famous, a land use planner with LURC, said the staff will evaluate the Stetson Mountain application for completeness over the coming weeks before launching a formal review.