HOULTON, Maine — Local residents think they should be getting more out of the proposed $2 billion King Pine Wind project planned for 175,000 acres of forestland in Aroostook County.
The 170 wind turbines snaking along a large swath of mountain tops from Monticello to Oxbow to Knowles Corner and New Smyrna will generate 1,000 megawatts of power and link the region to the New England electric grid via new transmission lines starting in Haynesville.
The project got a boost when Massachusetts signed on in January to pick up 40 percent of the total cost.
Area towns stand to benefit economically during construction, a consultant for Longroad Energy, the project’s Boston-based developer, told Houlton town councilors and area residents during an informational presentation about the project Monday night. There will be some local jobs and the project will use area subcontractors, said Al Cowperthwaite, the consultant. Additionally, Maine law requires Longwood Energy to pay towns located near the wind turbines $4,000 per turbine, per year, for 20 years, he said.
Still, if what would be Northeast’s largest wind farm is built in Aroostook County, some residents at the meeting said there should be more rewards for locals.
Hammond Plantation sculptor Glenn Hines said it was not enough because the people in northern Maine are sacrificing a certain quality of life that they enjoy so the consumers of the power don’t lose theirs.
“That troubles me. I have no problem with wind power as a concept, but if we’re going to be making a sacrifice for southern New England, I don’t feel like we’re being fairly compensated,” Hines said during Monday’s Houlton Town Council meeting. “In fact we’re sacrificing our future, our children’s future and our grandchildren’s future.”
Last fall, the Maine Public Utilities Commission selected Longroad’s bid to develop and construct the wind project northwest of Houlton and New York-based LS Power’s $2.78 billion, 345 kilovolt transmission line bid for the project.
Longroad Energy will run transmission lines from Pittsfield to Haynesville to connect into New York-based LS Energy’s 345 kilovolt transmission lines.
In December, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources agreed to pay for 40 percent of the project’s cost to receive 40 percent of the power generated by King Pine Wind.
“Massachusetts does not have the large expanse of land to do it,” Cowperthwaite said last week. “It’s the same with southern Maine. There are no large tracts of this size where they can put this many turbines without negative impact.”
Bridgewater organic seed potato grower Jim Gerritsen said on Monday night, following the council meeting, he’d like to see a map that shows where the wind turbines will be located and where the transmission lines will run.
“Then it should be explained what benefits people in the Unorganized Territory and Aroostook County will receive in exchange for project burdens such as degraded landscapes, the impact on quality of life and an expectation that local ratepayers should help pay for those transmission lines,” Gerritsen said.
The wind project is on commercial forest land mostly owned by Irving, according to Cowperthwaite. There are no homes in the tract, although there are 48 cabins, so there are no environmental features that are negatively impacted by seeing the turbines, he said.
Longroad Energy, under the name First Wind, constructed The County’s wind projects in Mars Hill, 25 wind turbines, and Oakfield, 48 wind turbines. King Pine Wind is four times larger than the project in Oakfield, which receives $600,000 annually for the project, Cowperthwaite said.
During the meeting, Houlton Town Councilor Eileen McLaughlin asked about previous impact studies, referring to dwindling bird and bat populations.
While Aroostook County may be the ideal location for the company building the project, McLaughlin said, “is it ideal for the people who live in a natural area? When people come to northern Maine do they really want to have that encroaching on their wilderness?” she asked. “Probably not.”
In 2011, a similar project, called the Number Nine Project, went from near Mars Hill up to Knowles Corner and through the Maine woods never got off the ground because the state did not want to pay for the transmission lines.
The funding from Massachusetts makes a big difference for the new King Pine Wind project, Cowperthwaite said.
King Pine Wind is in the preliminary stages and, if approved, will not start construction until 2026. The PUC has asked Longroad and LS Power to provide more specifics related to cost by September.
King Pine Wind is currently conducting feasibility studies on the environmental impact of the turbines as required by federal and state law, Cowperthwaite said.