AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine's largest wind energy developer has come back to the state with a scaled-back plan to build a wind farm on Bowers Mountain in eastern Maine, proposing 16 instead of 27 turbines and placing them in less visible locations.
First Wind's proposal is now under review by state regulators, six months after it was rejected by the former Land Use Regulation Commission. The commission invited First Wind to come back with a revised plan. Because of changes in the law that transformed LURC into the Land Use Planning Commission, the state Department of Environmental Protection is now the principal reviewing agency for the project.
Since the project's rejection last spring, developers from the Boston-based wind power company have gone to local hunting guides and seasonal residents who had expressed reservations in the past. First Wind now is confident it has addressed their concerns that the project would present visual intrusions and harm tourism-based industries.
"We made an effort to reach out to as may stakeholders as possible, even opponents," said Neil Kiely, director of development for First Wind.
Among the earlier opponents was the Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe, which said the proposed project was too close to cultural and spiritual sites on its land. The project would be located in Carroll Plantation, Penobscot County, and Kossuth Township, Washington County.
But a Sept. 14 letter to the DEP says "the original concerns and opposition" the tribe expressed over the project "have been addressed to our satisfaction" and the tribe now supports the project.
"We do not believe that the visibility of the turbines in the reconfigured project will negatively impact our traditional uses of our lands and the lakes they surround including the recreational uses of fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, camping and hiking. More importantly, we do not believe it will interfere with our cultural ceremonies," says the letter, which was filed as part of First Wind's application.
A message left Wednesday with Friends of Maine Mountains, which opposed the project and other large-scale wind projects, was not immediately returned.
First Wind said its new plan reconfigures the turbines to reduce visual impact, moves them farther from scenic lakes, uses new technology to leave its lights off at night except when planes are in the area, and creates a fund to improve deer habitat and promote local guides and other tourism businesses.
The proposed lighting system uses radar to signal when planes are close so lights marking the towers are turned on, Kiely said. The plan, which essentially eliminates lights at night, needs Federal Aviation Administration approval, he said.
The revised plan does result in a loss of overall generating capacity from what was first proposed, from 62 megawatts to 48 megawatts. However, the impact of reducing the number of turbines isn't as great as it could have been because the new plan utilizes more efficient turbines that turn out 30 percent more power.
The $100 million project straddling Washington and Penobscot counties would supply enough power to meet the average needs of 25,000 homes. The power would go into the New England grid.
First Wind would like to start construction in 2013.