ELLSWORTH — Weaver Wind, a 22-turbine, $145-million wind farm proposed for several towns in Hancock County, has cleared one of the first hurdles in the application process, having been officially approved as an “allowed use” by the Maine Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) on Nov. 26.
If all goes as planned, construction will begin in the spring and the turbines will be up and running by summer 2020, according to documents on file with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
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, with a footprint just shy of 4 acres for each, 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.
If the turbines are as efficient as the company has predicted, they will generate enough electricity to provide energy for around 40,000 homes each year. (These homes will not necessarily be in Maine, although the company has applied to sell power in the state.)
With a combined maximum capacity totaling 72.6 megawatts, the project would boost Maine’s total wind generating power by around 7 percent, and would generate around $12 million in annual revenue if the company’s proposal to sell the power at around 5 cents per kilowatt hour is accepted.
Several community groups and the towns themselves stand to benefit financially from the project if it is built. Osborn would receive a one-time payment of $750,000 and an annual payment of just shy of $56,000 ($1,212 per megawatt of installed capacity) for 20 years. Eastbrook would get $150,000 ($5,682 per megawatt of installed capacity) each year for its eight turbines. Longroad also would donate to several community groups and estimates that it will pay around $7 million in property taxes in the region over the next 20 years, the bulk of which will go to Eastbrook.
At community meetings with developers in recent months, residents have raised concerns about the noise level of the turbines, migratory birds (one of the reasons an earlier application for the project was pulled in 2015) and the impact on scenic vistas around the area.
Longroad has attempted to assuage these fears with data, bringing in engineers and other specialists to speak with residents.
According to sound engineer Scott Bodwell, the turbines from two miles away would have a noise level around that of a library or quiet office. To minimize attraction to birds, the towers will be equipped with lights that are only on when planes are in the area. And a “visual assessment” by a Yarmouth landscape architect firm found that while some of the tops of the turbines would be visible from local water bodies, the project “should not significantly compromise views” from any of these areas.
LUPC approval is required because some of the project, which is spread between Eastbrook, Osborn, Aurora and Township 16, is in unorganized territory, where land use planning is governed by the state. The plans also will have to be approved by the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Seventy-five percent of Maine’s net electricity generation came from renewable energy sources (wood, hydro and wind) in 2017, including 20 percent from wind, according to the U.S. Energy Information Association. The state leads New England in wind power, with Maine turbines accounting for two-thirds of the region’s generation last year.