AURORA — Residents made more noise than the quiet wind on Wednesday as stakeholders met at the Airline Community School to discuss a proposal for a 22-turbine wind farm under review by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Close to a dozen speakers commented during the meeting, which was hosted by the DEP, one of the agencies tasked with reviewing the plans.
Most of those who spoke were in favor of the proposal for Weaver Wind, an application for which was submitted to the state by Boston-based Longroad Energy Partners in November.
The economic benefits touted by Longroad were on the minds of many.
“Residents are looking for some tax relief,” Eastbrook resident Julie Curtis told the panel of three DEP representatives. “We’re looking for some businesses to develop. We would see this as a good thing for us. We are for this.”
Osborn resident Duane Jordan agreed.
“Those benefits are going to stay directly in these small towns,” he said. “We have a very small community.”
The turbines would be located in Osborn and Eastbrook, with operations based in Aurora. The energy generated would be funneled into an existing substation in Township 16, which would be upgraded.
John Cooney, vice president of finance and development at Reed & Reed, a general contractor based in Woolwich, told the panel and audience that wind projects can tap into federal subsidies and increase the amount of money spent in Maine.
“There aren’t a lot of large capital investments in the state,” Cooney said. “Whether you like federal subsidies or not, it’s essentially the same concept as a federal highway,” where the state receives money for improvements and construction, sometimes upward of 80 percent.
“On wind projects, that subsidy isn’t as high,” Cooney continued. “It’s closer to 20 to 30 percent, but that allows the leverage of capital investment. So $500 million of federal subsidies on these wind projects has been leveraged to $2.3 billion of capital investments.”
Reed & Reed is involved with Weaver Wind and has worked on numerous wind projects throughout the state, including Bull Hill in Eastbrook.
If the project is built, Osborn would be home to 14 turbines and receive a one-time payment of $750,000 along with 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 money for dam restoration on Lower Lead Mountain Pond 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.
“When the wind projects started about 10 years ago,” said Jim Nelligan, director of materials handling for the Sprague Energy terminal in Searsport, “it was a godsend for our business. It’s had a huge impact on the economy of the local area.”
But not everyone was pleased with the proposal.
“It’s going to benefit the colonial masters of the state of Maine — Massachusetts,” said Spectacle Pond resident Jonathan Osgood, referring to the potential that the energy will be sold to power homes in other states.
“The town is not supportive of hosting yet another wind project that will surround the lake, make access for the birds virtually impossible, destroy the visual power of the lake and make property values plummet.”
Longroad representatives have previously said that the company has submitted a proposal to the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to sell energy into the grid at a little less than 5 cents per kilowatt hour. The company also has put bids into Connecticut and Rhode Island and officials have said they would consider selling to a corporation if the bid is not accepted by the PUC.
Osgood also wondered why the project was being considered after being pulled in 2015 due to concerns over migratory birds in the area.
“What’s changed?” he asked.
Another Spectacle Pond resident expressed concerns about the sound of the turbines.
“We’re the ones that are going to be sitting with the low grade hum sitting right on top of us,” said Karen Wilson. “We’re the ones that are going to pay for it. Our taxes may go down … We’re not going to enjoy our places anymore.”
Longroad representatives have held meetings in previous months to attempt to assuage concerns about noise and bird migration. One engineer told residents at a previous meeting that from two miles away the turbines would have the noise level of a library or a quiet office. They would be likely be loudest in the winter, when winds are higher but residents are more likely to be inside.
To minimize attraction to birds, the towers will be equipped with lights that are only on when planes are in the area.
The Maine Land Use Planning Commission, which signed off on part of the application in November, also is reviewing the Weaver Wind application, as is the Maine Department of Transportation.