OSBORN — A 22-turbine wind project known as Weaver Wind should be online by the end of the year at the latest, said Chief Development Officer Matt Kearns of Longroad Energy Partners, the company behind the project.
“All of the towers are up,” said Kearns. “By the end of November, we will be electrically connected to the grid and in December I think we will do some testing.”
Eight of the turbines are in Eastbrook and 14 in Osborn. Most of the project is on the hills south of Route 9 and Spectacle Pond, including Hardwood Hill, Birch Hill, Een Ridge and Little Bull Hill. Once they’re finished, the turbines will be among the world’s tallest, measuring 591 feet from ground to blade tip.
The company reached an agreement with the Maine Public Utilities Commission last year to sell power in Maine to Versant (formerly known as Emera Maine, which was bought by a Canadian company in March). Under the PUC agreement, Weaver Wind will sell its energy for 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour, increasing at 2.5 percent per year. At the 3.5 cent price, the turbines would generate around $7 million in revenue for Longroad in a year, according to Ellsworth American calculations. The company says it will eventually invest more than $140 million in the project, including paying around $17 million in taxes and community benefit payments to municipal, county and state governments.
The turbines will have a total capacity of 72.6 megawatts (MW) of electricity, with each tower producing 3.3 MW. The company expects to generate 200,000 megawatt hours of electricity annually. A megawatt hour is how much electricity is generated by a 1-megawatt electric generator that is running or producing electricity for one hour.
The wind doesn’t always blow, of course, but turbines have gotten more efficient in recent years, with a “capacity factor” of around 35 percent in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). This essentially means the turbines were producing maximum power around 35 of the time during the year. That’s better than solar (25 percent) but still below hydroelectric (40 percent) and coal (48 percent). Nuclear power is by far the most efficient source of energy, operating at its maximum capacity around 94 percent of the time.
With a home in Maine using an average of 6.25 megawatt hours of electricity each year, the Weaver Wind turbines will generate enough energy to provide a year’s worth of power to around 32,000 Maine homes, if the turbines are as efficient as the company has predicted. (Maine is part of a wholesale electricity market in which power is sold region-wide.)
Kearns said the company did have some COVID-related delays, including at least one blade delivered late, but that overall the project ran on time.
“It’s a tough time to build a huge infrastructure project like this,” said Kearns, but “This is a Maine-made project, which is really awesome. People know how to build things in Maine. We have a good supply chain.”
Longroad used a long list of Maine contractors, said Kearns, with Reed & Reed out of Woolwich as the general contractor. There were 135 construction jobs created as part of the project.
“You’ve got a lot of road construction stuff that is specialty work,” said Kearns, adding that workers did 11 “crane breakdowns,” dismantling the crane and moving it from site to site, to avoid affecting wetlands on the property. “It takes like a week and a half to do each one of those,” he said.
The project had a bumpy start. It was initially proposed in 2014 but pulled after Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) officials worried that the turbines might adversely affect bird and bat migration in the area.
To address those concerns, Longroad has agreed to conserve 5,800 acres for wildlife habitat and to curtail turbine operations during peak bat activity periods. The company will conserve 3,100 acres in Hancock north of the Downeast Sunrise Trail and another roughly 2,700 acres of woods and wetlands in Whiting.
Maine leads New England in wind-powered generation, ranking sixth in the nation in the share of its electricity generated from wind and accounting for two-thirds of the energy generated by wind in New England last year, according to the EIA. The state had nearly 400 wind turbines installed as of last year, with 900 megawatts of generating capacity, although that’s far shy of the target set by the state Legislature in 2009 of 3,000 megawatts by 2020.
In 2019, 80 percent of Maine’s electricity net generation came from renewable energy resources, including water (hydropower) wood and wind, with hydroelectric power the largest share, at 31 percent, according to the EIA.