Maine Wind Farm Gets Green Light, But Project Leader Says Cleantech Efforts Face Too Many Snarls

The wind in New England blows mainly against big green-energy projects. At least that’s the assessment of Matt Kearns, an audibly frazzled project manager for Newton, MA-based UPC Wind.

Despite winning final approval last week for the creation of New England’s largest wind-energy installation, now under construction on a ridge in northern Maine, Kearns says the regulatory and political barriers to placing major cleantech facilities in the region are high enough to scare off all but the most persistent and well-funded entrepreneurs.

“The uncertainty and the costs associated with that uncertainty are pretty overwhelming, frankly, in many cases,” says Kearns, who has spent the last several years shepherding UPC’s Stetson Mountain wind farm project past the cautious scrutiny of state, county, and federal agencies, not to mention local residents and environmental groups.

“Regardless of the fact that we have had a success here, we find that the hurdles are so high, and New England is such a complicated place to do business, that it takes a full-time, highly skilled and coordinated group to make it to the finish line,” Kearns says.

Locations of UPC Wind’s Mars Hill and Stetson Mountain ProjectsUPC Wind first eyed Stetson Mountain as a potentially viable wind-farm site almost five years ago, according to Kearns. As the proposed 38-turbine project drew closer to final approval, it faced growing questions from environmental groups such as Maine Audubon, which worried that the 392-feet-tall turbines would harm birds and bats migrating over the ridge (which is about seven miles southwest of Danforth, ME). Audubon threatened to testify against the project before Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission, which is in charge of zoning for unincorporated wilderness areas in the state.

But after UPC agreed to make design changes and conduct post-construction studies of bird and bat mortality, the group withdrew its objections, and in fact recommended approval. “It took a constant conversation between all the parties, including key groups like the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine Audubon, to help us figure out where to be and why,” says Kearns. “I don’t think anybody would describe the process as easy.” The land use commission approved the company’s petition to rezone the land for industrial use in November and voted unanimously to give the project the final go-ahead on January 2.

When completed later this year, the facility is expected to produce 57 megawatts of peak electricity, eclipsing UPC’s 28-turbine, 42-megawatt wind farm in Mars Hill, ME, as New England’s largest. But if every wind project required five years between conception and permitting, few wind developers would bother, Kearns suggests. “We’re really pleased that we’ve gotten this far, and we think it’s in large part due to the support we saw from the commissioners,” he says. “But in comparison to the … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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17 responses to “Maine Wind Farm Gets Green Light, But Project Leader Says Cleantech Efforts Face Too Many Snarls”

  1. Bill AuletBill Aulet says:

    Seems a bit like Cape Wind North. This is a clear case of NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) and similar to numerous other stories I have heard about clean energy when it comes to deployment and commercialization. This illustrates a key point related to energy innovation — specifically that technology innovation is an important but also potentially only a small part of what is needed to create market value. Business model innovation and process innovation (in this case the streamlining of the approval process) is equaly important and if not present will severly hamper the potential postive impact of such an advancement.
    The question really is “Is NIMBY related to clean energy worse in New England than other regions of the country?”

  2. nimby says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with protecting what God made. He did a great job making Stetson Mountain, it’s too bad a few flatlander’s had to find it and ruin it for EVERYONE. And guess what? I haven’t heard of any coal fired plant’s shutting down because of INDUSTRIAL WIND. If you call wind site’s clean energy, I guess you close your eye’s to the destruction and ruin that is caused by them. I am PROUD to be a “NIMBY” I just wish these guy’s would all go home, and do it in their own backyard’s!! Your only REALLY interested in lining your pocket’s….

  3. Andy B says:

    Looks like what wind projects in New England need is top cover. That is, enough backing from local and regional gov’t that local non-profits, including very well intentioned ones like regional Audubon chapters, have less ability to slow down or stop these implementations. To Bill’s comment above about other US regions, look at TX and look at CA if you want to see behavior that’s 180 degrees opposite of what UPC has faced in Maine as well as the epic battle called Cape Wind – a project that should already have been built and delivering cleaner power to that region for several years now.

  4. Martha Thacker says:

    When a criminal can’t get credit…Most people say”Well that is just business.” Evergreen a subsidiary of UPC has been sued for non payment of equipment used in Mars Hill,ME. As far as I know, they never paid for it. Instead they said it was not merchantable and used it anyway. Just because criminals dress up and have a degree is no reason to stop using good judgment. Quite a few in this company should be in jail.

  5. Pam Cleveland says:

    I do not understand how people can attack clean energy entrepreneurs, endorse obstructionists policies and still claim to support the push to clean up our global environment. We are all energy pigs in the US and we have to take real, painful and meaningful steps to support renewable energy projects whether offshore wind, land-based wind, ocean tidal, current or wave, biomass, hydrokenetic and solar power. Personally, I will take the visual pollution of a wind turbine tower over the continuing climate-changing pollution of fossil fuels.

  6. Pauline Hopkins says:

    I agree with Nimby.

  7. Stephen says:

    Before all the arguments regarding conservation of migrating wild life are considered,why dont these people try to understand the impact that the Generation of Power by using fossil fuels in the local power station has to the environmnet. I bet conservationist never consider this as it is not directly in front of them. We should all WAKEUP and realise that fossil fuels are running out and will demand will outstrip supply within the next decade. Building these types of clean energy power generators will help bridge the gap of transition in the future. Failure to start doing this now will be at the cost of not just the environment but our whole way of life. So i say to conservationists, GET REAL, their a bigger picture out there and stop being so short sited.

  8. Linda says:

    I am all for renewable energy, but after researching and talking with communities that have had “wind farms” placed in their communities, my thoughts have changed. The noise from the turbines can be heard up to 4 miles away and is a constant humming that can cause middle ear problems-many persons have to take sleeping pills EVERY night because of the sound. Some turbines that are close to homes (1500feet) cause a flicker inside your home at sunup/sunset that will also drive you crazy. These turbines are HUGE,hundreds of acres are clearcut-destroying wildlife habitat, the animals are also affected by the noise. Birds get sucked in, especailly bats that use sound/sonar. The wind companies, backed by all these green incentives of the government are dying to put a wind turbine in your backyard too! Once the turbine is up on your property, the wind company will pay you lease money for a few years. What they don’t tell you is exactly how much you’ll be paid, for how long you’ll be paid and what your role will be in the whole process. The company carries NO liability insurance- so, if that turbine blade falls off and whips through the air and kills your neighbor, guess whos responsible? YOU- it’s on your property.
    Another issue about wind power in general- so far, no study or research has proven that wind farms have lessened our burden on energy usage, some studies say it contributes less than 0.002 percent. And, if wind farms in Maine are so great, why is all the power it does create being sold to the highest bidder OUT OF STATE!! I urge everyone to get in touch with communities/persons that have experieinced wind turbines-it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.

  9. Matt says:

    The absence of education trumps the NIMBY community. I believe I speak for a lot of people when I say I understand the stance of the NIMBY community, but not their reasoning. How hard is it to just plain say ‘I don’t want a wind farm, or even a wind turbine in sight of my residence?’ Easy right! However, it is going to be those same people (IMO) who point fingers when the condition of the national electric grid worsens before it gets better. We may sell excess electric to outsiders but we contribute to the national grid as a whole.
    The NIMBY community will surely have something to complain about when they flick their light switch and are left in the dark with their reliable flashlights if an energy crisis takes place due to a shortage of alternative energy sources (assuming population and industrial growth take rise substantially by 2030 as expected).
    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but do not complain until you understand. I recommend a quick viewing of the following site as an informational foundation to the NIMBY community, as well as anyone else who is interested in the topic. Who wouldn’t want to have their electric bills offset by producing their own electricity via RECs (Renewable Energy Credits)?

  10. David F says:

    I view Stetson Mt project almost everyday that I travel to Danforth. It seems many days that the blades are not moving, so the only time that they claim how many households are served is based on all windmills generating electricity.

    My concern as a landowner is where a proposed transmission line is to be built on land I manage. The proposed acreage to be used is about 50 acres.

    As a certified tree farmer of course I will lose income due not able to grow trees, thus lose of income. Second I am assessed $50 an acre for this land that is of no value to me.

    But my reason for writting this is that trees take carbon out of the air and produce oxygen. If the trees are removed then the carbon is not removed. I can not quote how much carbon a tree removes, but there are usually on average 400 full size trees growing per acre, plus the younger trees growing. Total stems per acre is on average 700 plus trees that are removing carbon.

    I would like someone to tell me how much carbon is being removed by the trees and how much carbon is being produced to build the transmission line for a system that has to have a backup generator because wind is not substainable.

    I have heard that First Wind has placed Stetson Mt project for sale through Credit Suisse. Is there any truth to this statement?

  11. On the one hand, I understand the reservations people have about “big wind,” at least when it comes to 1) possible noise, 2) bird fatalities (if the turbines are in migratory birdpaths, or near concentrated bat populations), and 3) convoluted and unclear laws regarding how much residents get paid for allowing the turbines on their property, and that place liability on them.

    On the other hand, it is pretty obvious that done right, big wind has a GIGANTIC potential for mitigating greenhouse gases, toxic and persistent mercury emissions (which are steadily increasing and ruining our freshwater fisheries across the country), and mountaintop removal mining. Those who talk about the “pristine beauty” of mountains sans wind turbines need to visit West Virginia where the coal mines are literally replacing those mountains completely, and where the streams and been completely destroyed by said mining debris!

    Instead of being so blindly critical, what is needed is coherent, relevant and constructive criticism.

  12. A. Ramsdell says:

    NIMBY, I am not oppposed to wind power in general, however, a recent newspaper article set off a few bells for me. Seems Harvard University has contracted to purchase 1/2 of Stetson Mt. wind power.

    Mainers should at least get to use say 75% before any outside buyer gets any.

  13. Head4Moose says:

    When are the Folks in Maine going to realize that the only constant in life is CHANGE. Thus, you can either fail to or plan to fail.
    If we are blessed with mountains that have good constant wind, why not develop a green energy business. All these wood stoves & heating systems are a lot more noxious to our environment than wind energy!!!!
    Oh yes, I forgot, these are the same folks that would have kept opposing rural electrification while investing in companies that manufactured “buggy whips” and “oil lamps”.
    P L E A S E – can we arrive to the 21st. century??????

  14. Head4Moose says:

    Oh, I forgot to tell you that the birds asked their ancestors how they learned not to fly into power lines after rural electrification.
    Not hard at all they said! Our species knows how to adapt to change[ power lines, clear glass,etc.]. It is these humans we keep hovering over who are unemployed, waiting in food lines, etc. that seem to be unable to adapt to change!!!!!

  15. Ted Sheloski says:

    daved F about the cutting of the trees . I cant see were the cutting of the trees hurt a thing . Look around at all the farms that have gone out and what happend to the land it turned into treees the king farm was all medows at one time now trees think about it

  16. alex says:

    leave Maine alone with this Obama’s- Gore scam