Maine: the largest producer of wind energy in New England

First Wind projects in Maine

By Ramona du Houx

April 8th, 2009 

altOn a snowy day, driving along a steep, curvy road, there’s no sign of what will greet you around the next corner just outside Danforth, Maine. Then unexpectedly the gentle giants rise up. Only a whooshing sound can be heard as the massive blades cut through the air, capturing enough energy in their embrace to power 23,500 homes.

First Wind’s Stetson Wind project consists of 38 General Electric 1.5 MW wind turbines, which have the capacity to generate approximately 167 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of clean electricity every year. First Wind also built the Mars Hill wind facility.

“These two operational wind farms mean Maine is now the largest wind producer in New England,” announced Governor John E. Baldacci during the ceremonies celebrating Stetson Wind on the day they began transmitting energy to the grid. “This is what I believe in passionately. Maine is willing to experiment, to try something new, and to change for the future, while safeguarding its natural resources. Stetson II represents more economic development, more jobs, and more opportunities for the people of Maine.”

Stetson II is an expansion of this wind farm that, despite the economic challenges, will go ahead. Other companies have opted out of pursuing projects during the recession.

“This is huge for Maine. Not only do we benefit from the construction and the economic ripple effect in communities that these projects bring — with the composite windmill blades and component parts that we are working on at the University of Maine — the industry will grow in the state. And more young people will be trained in the jobs of the future that these technologies create, so they won’t have to leave the state.”

With the growth of wind projects and the new composite research being conducted at UMO, state officials are working to bring wind power turbine and blade manufacturers to Maine. The idea is to build the windmills, erect them, and collect the energy they produce, all in Maine.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a report that says Maine has more wind-energy potential than all other New England states combined.

“With nearly 100 MW of clean, wind energy being generated between Stetson Wind and our Mars Hill project, we’re making renewable wind power in Maine a reality and plan to continue our commitment to the state,” said Paul Gaynor, president and CEO of First Wind, who has worked in energy all his life. “I used to be employed by General Electric and helped with nuclear power plant installations. I’m elated that I made this move into wind. It’s good for the environment, the economy, and our energy independence as a country,” he said. “Maine has been tremendous to us. Frankly, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for your governor. His commitment, all along the way and especially when he put together the wind task force, reinforced our commitment.”

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First Wind’s commitments in Maine to build new wind sites are numerous and far reaching. First there is the proposed c II, then there is the 60 MW Rollins Wind project near the town of Lincoln. Among other projects in development this year and possibly under construction in 2010, is First Wind’s 40-megawatt Longfellow project in Rumford. Then there are other projects in unspecified locations. In total, if all their projects get the green light, 503 megawatts of wind energy could be generated by First Wind in Maine, according to figures on their website.

The Governor’s Task Force on Wind Power Development set as goals having at least 2,000 megawatts of installed wind power capacity in Maine by 2015, and at least 3,000 megawatts by 2020, including at least 300 megawatts from offshore projects.

“With more wind, and other clean energy, projects in Maine, we can become energy independent. We need to. I’ve been through three energy crises, each one worse than the last. We need a declaration of energy independence from foreign energy sources; wind energy is a huge step in that direction. By harnessing wind, solar and tidal energy sources, we create jobs in our state, all the while improving our environment and our national security,” said Gov. Baldacci.

A local school celebrates with Gov.Baldacci at FirstWinds ribbon cutting
A local school celebrates with Gov.Baldacci at FirstWinds ribbon cutting
Stetson will produce the equivalent energy of what would be produced by burning about 331,000 barrels of oil a year. The big benefit is that by being clean wind energy, 76,000 tons of carbon dioxide will not be emitted into that atmosphere.

“For the first time that I can remember, we have a real opportunity to advance our economy, and the environment together,” said Kurt Adams, chief development officer of First Wind. “Everyone worked together, from state and county officials to community members and environmental organizations, to make sure the project was successful.”

Pete Didisheim, Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine said, “In Maine, we’re not just talking about the need for clean energy, we’re doing it. The companies and subcontractors who have brought this project to completion are helping to create a new energy future, not just for Maine, but for our nation.”

The economic impact generated by First Wind has been huge, as the company buys local, eats local, and lives in local accommodation while the towers are erected. The rural communities see cash injected into their businesses, as if a movie has come to film in their town.

Matt Kearns, project manager, said, “We used 130 Maine businesses, and we hired 350 construction workers who had a job they otherwise wouldn’t. There has been a tremendous economic impact on the region.”

Businesses throughout the state have also benefited and are growing alongside First Wind.

Stetson wind mills in motion
Stetson wind mills in motion
Jack Parker, president and CEO of Reed & Reed, the general contractor for Stetson Wind and the Mars Hill project, said, “Reed & Reed has invested millions of dollars in very large equipment needed to construct these wind farms. The investment in both technology and human resources will continue to serve the state of Maine well, especially in challenging economic times and in rural areas of our state, where the job opportunities are needed most.”

Reed & Reed are renowned as bridge and marine construction builders. They erected the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. The Mars Hill wind farm was the first wind project Reed & Reed constructed. “It opened the door for more opportunities for us. We’ve hired more workers, and the future with wind projects is very exciting.”

Towns benefit from property tax revenues when First Wind becomes a neighbor. In total, $4 million in tax payments will be made to local communities over the next 20 years. On top of that, First Wind takes their community responsibilities seriously, and they have donated funds for the local schools’ outdoor club as well as the Danforth Fire Department.

“First Wind has put Washington County back on the map,” said County Commissioner Chris Gardner. “They worked with us every step of the way and have been tremendous stewards of our environmental resources and, most importantly, the public trust.”

UPDATE:
First Wind Files Permit Application with Maine Department of Environmental Protection

Company seeking environmental permit for its proposed Oakfield Wind project in Aroostook County

Boston, MA—April 8, 2009—First Wind, an independent developer of wind power in North America, today announced that it has filed a permit application with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to build a proposed 51 megawatt (MW) wind project in the town of Oakfield in Aroostook County. The proposed Oakfield Wind project will consist of up to 34 GE 1.5 MW turbines that can produce enough energy to power more than 20,000 homes.

“Maine continues to foster the development of renewable energy, and we are excited to continue work to provide indigenous renewable and clean wind power,” said Matt Kearns, First Wind’s Vice President of Development for New England. “In addition to its many environmental and renewable energy attributes, the Oakfield Wind project will offer significant economic benefits to the state, Aroostook County, and most importantly to the Oakfield community. We are looking forward to working with members of the community to advance this project.”

Oakfield Wind would be the second project for First Wind in Aroostook County, which owns and operates the 42 MW Mars Hill Wind project. The project has helped significantly lower taxes for Mars Hill residents and utilized hundreds of Maine residents during the design, engineering and construction of the project. The Oakfield Wind project would have a similarly positive effect on the local economy.

First Wind also owns and operates the 57 MW Stetson Wind project in Washington County, and recently received approval from the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) to build a 25.5 megawatt (MW) expansion. In addition, the company has submitted a permit application with the DEP for the 60 MW Rollins Wind project near the town of Lincoln.