BY DOUG HARLOW
BINGHAM — More than 100 supporters and opponents of what would be the state’s largest and most expensive wind project presented their views Wednesday night in a public hearing called by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
They spoke of noise and light pollution, quality-of-life issues, the economic benefits of wind power and the partnership of private land owners and business.
Blue Sky West, LLC and Blue Sky West II, LLC, affiliates of First Wind in Boston, are proposing to develop a 62-turbine, up-to-206-megawatt wind power generation facility in Bingham, Mayfield Township and Kingsbury Plantation.
The project would include up to five temporary meteorological towers, up to five permanent meteorological towers, an electrical collector system, an electrical substation, and an operations and maintenance building. In addition, there would be a 17 mile transmission line running from Kingsbury Plantation to a Central Maine Power Co. substation in Parkman.
The turbine towers would have a maximum height of about 492 feet. The project is estimated to cost $398 million.
DEP representatives attended the Wednesday night hearing at Quimby Middle School. They included Commissioner Patricia Aho, project manager Daniel Courtemanch and other department staff members involved with the agency’s review of the project’s Site Law and Natural Resources Protection Act permit applications.
The meeting was the second of two DEP sessions to inform the public and invite comment on an 62-turbine wind farm being proposed in Somerset and Piscataquis counties before the agency issues its final decision in the spring. A policy established by Aho in 2011 requires two public meetings be held on all proposed grid-scale wind power projects in Maine.
James LeBreck, of Bangor, the first of several people to speak Wednesday night, said the state would invest $1 billion in wind power with no savings to taxpayers and no benefit to the environment.
“When it gets really cold, those wind machines don’t work,” he said. “On cold days we’d be using more oil than we would otherwise — 1 billion (dollars) and we save nothing.”
Somerset County Commissioner Phil Roy, of Fairfield, said in his job as chief financial officer in Hancock County, he has seen firsthand how First Wind, operates. He said he supports the Bingham Wind project.
“Having visited Stetson 1 and Stetson 2 and Mars Hill wind projects, I can say First Wind does it right,” Roy said. “After reading everything I can get my hands on, on the Bingham Wind project, I am in front of you today to support the Bingham Wind project.”
Roy said the project represents a $400 million investment in Somerset and Piscataquis counties. He said the project would create temporary construction jobs and several full-time jobs once the project is up and running. The Bingham Wind project would generate roughly $145 million in supply-chain spending to Maine businesses and would provide $42 million in property taxes to the communities where the towers would be based, according to Roy.
Conan Furber said from his front porch in Kingbury Plantation, the silence is golden and the dark night a pleasure to him. He said the turbines would wipe all that out.
“We’re losing our quality of life,” Furber said. “How many of you have heard snow fall? There’s a difference between paper plans and reality.”
At the first public meeting held in July, those opposed to the project argued that it poses a threat to the environment and the rural character of the land. It was largely the same Wednesday night, with area residents questioning the standards by which the turbines would be measured for scenic views, property value, water quality, wild life and noise.
Those in favor of the project added that the economic benefit would outweigh any negative aspects. Both Bingham and Moscow have agreements with First Wind, the parent company of Blue Sky, to receive annual payments for 20 years. Bingham would receive $8,000 a year for each tower built within the town’s boundaries, and Moscow would get $20,000 a year. Kingsbury Plantation would get the most money — $176,000 a year for 20 years from the company.
The project would have 11 turbines of up to 492 feet high in Bingham, 22 in Kingsbury Plantation and 29 in Mayfield Township.
In November, the review of the project was put on hold because of concerns that wind turbines could hurt bats, which also are facing an outside threat from white-nose syndrome, a rapidly spreading disease that has put two local bat species under consideration for being classified as endangered species. To protect the bats, Blue Sky West LLC has agreed to adopt a recommendation from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to regulate turbine speeds when the bats are active.
Comments Wednesday night also addressed the possible adverse affects on the area’s bald eagle population, brook trout, smelts and other fish with the disruption of fresh-water wetlands to make way for the turbines. Others spoke of the shadow flicker from sunlight on the turbine blades and the effect on honeybees, blueberries and water quality.
Others disagreed, saying the wind project would be a major benefit to the area.
Gloria Jean Shaw, who said she always has lived in Bingham or Moscow, told the DEP and others present that the Bingham Wind project is a good thing.
“First Wind will do it the right way, and the town of Bingham will get a tax break,” Shaw said. “Anybody would be stupid not to accept this as progress.”
Bingham Selectman Steve Steward said votes overwhelmingly approved the concept of wind power at Town Meeting three years ago. He said the area is right for development and it should be up to area residents to “determine which way we go”.
Robert Linkletter, of Athens, whose family is in the logging business and operates a pellet mill, said the project is an ideal partnership between private land owners and forest management.
“The reality of a difficult economy can not be ignored,” Linkletter said. “Property taxes going down has property values going up.”