Thursday, January 28, 2010

Eastbrook reviews wind power options

Jan. 28--EASTBROOK, Maine -- A handful of local municipal officials and a few residents got an advance look Tuesday night at what kind of effect a large-scale wind farm might have on their town, which has fewer than 400 year-round residents.

One scenario floated at the meeting, which included attorneys and planners representing the town and the firm that hopes to erect the turbines on Bull Hill, included the creation of a community benefit fund that could generate more than $2.5 million for the town over a 20-year period. Another suggestion was the creation of a tax-increment financing district that would earmark a certain percentage of the company's property taxes for economic development projects in town, with the rest being returned to the company for the 20-year term of the agreement.

"This is a big deal for such a small town," Charles Yeo, the town's first selectman, said after he and his fellow town officials met with First Wind representatives to discuss what kind of permitting process and planning schedule they would have to go through if the project were to be approved.

First Wind, which already has a 28-turbine wind farm in Mars Hill and a 38-turbine facility on Stetson Mountain in Washington County, is not sure how many turbines could end up on Bull Hill, according to Dave Fowler, senior land manager for the firm. He declined Wednesday to provide a rough preliminary estimate, but said that the Bull Hill development, if it goes forward, likely would be smaller than either Mars Hill or Stetson Mountain.

Joan Fortin, a Portland attorney who is representing the company's interests in drafting a potential TIF district agreement with the town, told selectmen that the company might be willing to donate to a community benefit fund $5,000 for each of the 25.5 megawatts that might be generated by the facility. If the wind farm had a total capacity of 25.5 megawatts, and if each turbine had a 1.5 megawatt capacity, that would suggest that there would be 17 turbines erected in Eastbrook.

Fowler said that the turbines at Mars Hill and at Stetson Mountain each have a 1.5 megawatt capacity, but he said First Wind is considering larger-capacity turbines for Bull Hill. The capacity range under consideration for each turbine, he said, runs from 1.5 megawatts to 3 megawatts. He said the possible height of the turbines ranges from 386 feet to 470 feet.

Fowler stressed, however, that the company and the town are in the very early planning stages for what kind of project might move forward, if any.

He said wind testing done at the site has been promising so far, but that the company also has to make sure whatever project it can get approval for would be financially viable before it moves ahead. And before it can do so, it has to get all the necessary permits required by Maine Department of Environmental Protection and by the town of Eastbrook.
"We need to know that the town is on board with this project," Fowler said.

Planning board member Charlene Bunker urged the developer to carefully study the issue of noise generated by the turbines as it envisions what kind of project it wants to pursue. A nurse by trade, Bunker said sleep deprivation that might result from turbine noise could lead to more serious health problems.

Fowler said First Wind is required by law to meet certain decibel and distance limits for surrounding houses when it erects and operates turbines.

"We take [the noise issue] very seriously when we site these," Fowler assured Bunker.

Yeo said First Wind has estimated that the overall value of the Eastbrook portion of the wind farm, which would extend into neighboring Township 16, could be about $40 million. But Yeo said he thought that was an overly conservative estimate.

"It will be twice that, or maybe even more," he said.

First Wind representatives are expected to reappear before town officials on Feb. 9, when selectmen are expected to appoint a committee of local residents to consider land use ordinance changes that would be needed for any wind farm on Bull Hill to get local approval. At the same meeting, local officials expect to be briefed about the DEP application review and approval process that First Wind would have to go through.

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