ELLSWORTH — A 22-turbine, $147.5-million wind farm project is one step closer to breaking ground after receiving approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Friday.
“We are really pleased to have a DEP permit for the Weaver Wind project,” said Longroad Energy Partners Chief Development Officer Matt Kearns in an email. “Weaver Wind will generate clean renewable electricity, create jobs and opportunities for local businesses, and benefit surrounding communities.
“We have worked for a number of years with state natural resource agencies to strike the right balance on this project. We appreciate DEP’s thorough review.”
The project was first proposed in 2014, but the company pulled it after Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) officials worried that the turbines might adversely affect bird and bat migration in the area.
This time around, after looking at several years worth of data, MDIFW officials decided that it was “unlikely” a full-blown research project would yield “scientifically meaningful data” on migration, according to the application approval issued on Friday.
Any anticipated effects on bats and birds, officials wrote, could be offset by land management and conservation.
So as part of the deal, Longroad has agreed to conserve 5,229 acres of bird habitat spread over several parcels in Hancock and Washington counties.
Two parcels, totaling 3,100 acres, will be north of the Downeast Sunrise Trail in Hancock County, while another 2,691-acre parcel will be in the Washington County town of Whiting.
The company also has agreed to curtail the turbines during peak bat migration periods, and MDIFW has recommended that Longroad staff be required to record all bird and bat fatalities in an annual log and freeze the carcasses in plastic bags, if possible.
The DEP approval is the last major state regulatory step for Weaver Wind. Officials have previously said they hope to break ground this summer and have the turbines up and running by next year.
Eight of the turbines would be located in Eastbrook and 14 in Osborn. Plans also include several new meteorological towers (up to five permanent and eight temporary), new power lines (mostly underground) and six miles of new road construction.
Most of the project will be on the hills south of Route 9 and Spectacle Pond, including Hardwood Hill, Birch Hill, Een Ridge and Little Bull Hill.
The meteorological towers will be up to 400 feet tall, according to documents on file with the DEP. The turbines themselves would be some of the world’s tallest, measuring 591 feet from ground to blade tip.
The project will affect roughly 2.5 acres of wetland, according to the permitting documents, in order to provide space for transporting the turbines and collector lines. The wetland would be cleared but not be filled in. Some impact is “unavoidable,” Longroad told the DEP.
State officials agreed, and wrote in the approval documents issued Friday that the plan “represents the least environmentally damaging alternative that meets the overall purpose of the project.”
Maine leads New England in wind power, with the state’s 375 installed turbines accounting for two-thirds of the region’s generation last year (a combined capacity of 923 megawatts). Weaver Wind would have a total capacity of 72.6 megawatts, a boost to the state’s wind generating power of roughly 7 percent.
If the Weaver Wind turbines are as efficient as the company has predicted, they will generate enough electricity to provide energy for around 40,000 homes each year and around $12 million in annual revenue for Longroad, as long as the company’s proposal to sell the power at around 5 cents per kilowatt hour is accepted. (These homes will not necessarily be in Maine, although the company has applied to sell power in the state.)
In 2017, seventy-five percent of Maine’s net electricity generation came from renewable energy sources (wood, hydro and wind), including 20 percent from wind, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association. Hydroelectric dams account for the greatest portion (33 percent), followed by biomass generators (25 percent, most of which use wood waste) and then wind.