CLIFTON — More than 50 area residents, many of whom own property around Hopkins Pond (which straddles the Hancock and Penobscot County lines north of Mariaville and Otis), ventured to the Clifton town office on Monday evening to voice their displeasure with a proposal to erect five wind turbines on Pisgah Mountain.
“The natural beauty of Hopkins Pond is priceless,” Molly Kealy, who owns property on the pond, told a panel of four Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) representatives.
“Permitting five additional wind turbines nearly twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty will adversely dominate nearly everyone’s views.”
The proposed $44-million wind project, dubbed Silver Maple Wind, would double the number of turbines and triple the energy potential of the existing five-turbine Pisgah Mountain Wind project in Clifton. It is being developed by SWEB Development USA, a subsidiary of Austria-based WEB Windenergie AG.
The new turbines would range from 567 to 607 feet from blade tip to the ground and would be built on a 163-acre parcel of land in Clifton directly abutting the Pisgah Mountain turbines, which began spinning in 2016.
The informational meeting was a chance for DEP officials to hear residents’ thoughts on the plans, which both the state and the town of Clifton have been reviewing for months.
Anyone who wanted could speak, with no time limit. Officials stressed that they would not be answering questions or engaging in dialogue (although they did answer a few questions informally at the end of the evening) but would allow audience members to have their say unimpeded.
All of the more than 15 people who spoke were against putting up more turbines. Most said that while they were in favor of alternative energy, they worry about the visual impact of plans.
“I’m here tonight because I’ve learned my lesson,” said Sally Harrison, adding that she’d built a “substantial” retirement home in nearby Holden and had not been involved in the Pisgah Mountain wind project application process. “After putting in at least 80 picture windows…all I see is the windmills. Even though I live two towns over all I see is five turbines.”
Harrison and others wondered why the turbines should be sited in residential areas.
“There’s a lot of mountains in Maine. There’s a lot of mountains that aren’t occupied by people. Why can’t it be there?”
The DEP has rejected at least one wind project, Bowers Mountain, due to concerns over visual impacts, a case that went to the Maine Supreme Court. In that case, the 16 proposed turbines would have been visible from nine area lakes.
The state’s Wind Energy Act stipulates that projects must not significantly compromise views from a scenic resource of state or national significance.
In regard to the Silver Maple project, concerns have been raised about sound levels and the impact on wildlife. In a letter in December, Environmental Program Manager Robert D. Stratton of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife wrote that the department would like to see more information and protective measures for birds and bats, and that the project “as currently proposed is anticipated to result in substantial detrimental impacts to these resources.”
The application filed with the Maine DEP states that the turbines would have average sound levels of around 35 decibels, below the noise level of a quiet library but above that of a whisper, according to a factsheet compiled by Purdue University.
Paul Fuller, a consultant on Silver Maple who also developed Pisgah Mountain, said after the meeting that “I think there are a lot of people who have a lot of concerns and answers are necessary.” But he cautioned that “there’s a lot of misinformation that needs to be ironed out.”
Fuller said he has confidence in Clifton and DEP officials.
“I put my faith in the DEP, I put my faith in the town,” he said.
As for the visual impact, Fuller noted that it was subjective.
“Now people can say they don’t like the way they look, but they can say they don’t like the color of my car, too.”
In response to a comment by Clifton resident Paula Kelso, who told officials earlier in the evening that the Pisgah Mountain project had “torn apart the community,” Fuller said he thought that it was misinformation that had made the Pisgah project so divisive, and that the town had not received any formal complaints about sound levels from the project since it went in several years ago.
Jessica Damon, the DEP’s project manager for Silver Maple, told the crowd that “This isn’t the end, tonight,” and urged residents to continue to send in comments. A decision on the plans is expected by April 12.