AUGUSTA – The state’s environmental groups who backed TransCanada’s Kibby wind power project and won two land conservation deals in Franklin and Oxford counties noted this project should serve as a model for future developers to follow.
TransCanada Energy Corp. has agreed to preserve from further development 1,100 acres along the higher and steeper slopes of Kibby Mountain Kibby Range, which surround the 44-turbine wind farm project area of northern Franklin County. They have also agreed to donate $500,000 towards preserving for public access a buffer area of four miles along Grafton Notch Trail. The contribution is part of the Grafton Notch Park expansion conservation project that is securing 3,400 acres that features a 40-mile Grafton Loop Trail in the Mahoosuc Range. Additional funding for that project totaling $1.5 million, will come from a voter-approved Land for Maine’s Future bond and $1.1 million from the federally funded Forest Legacy Program.
“It’s a significant back country loop trail,” said Sam Hodder, director of the state’s Trust for Public Lands. “It has a remarkable view. This is something to celebrate.” The area will continue as a multi-use recreational area that the ITS snowmobile trail cuts across and where a logging management company operates.
Jody Jones of Maine Audubon and Brian Wentzell of the Appalachian Mountain Club, also applauded TransCanada’s contributions. Meetings between the groups began three years ago as TransCanada began to look at Franklin County’s boundary mountains for wind possibilities. As the wind project developed, so did the ideas of land conservation.
Wind power should be a primary objective as a renewable resource, Jones said. “Our organization looked closely at the project and we determined it was an appropriate project contingent on a conservation benefits package.” Terming it a, “mitigation project,” Jones said the areas chosen for conservation feature high alpine mountain habitats that are considered ecologically sensitive areas.
“This is a wonderful model for other other developers to follow,” she said.
Very much in favor of the wind project, Franklin County Commissioner Gary McGrane of Jay, said everyone will benefit by having the wind farm built. Eustis and Stratton will receive $1,000 per megawatt produced by the 44 turbines each year. Projected at producing 132 megawatts, town officials could be looking at getting $132,000 a year in a community benefits package because the transmission power lines run through town. In addition, the county, having secured a tax increment financing agreement, could see a $4 million return over the next 20 years that is earmarked for economic development purposes in the unorganized territories.
“This is a very impressive project,” McGrane said “They’ve done their homework.”
Against the backdrop of the conservation agreement and benefits celebration today, the work is well underway atop Kibby Mountain.
The clearing of a total of 440 acres will be completed by loggers with Plum Creek, the company that holds the land in trust for the wind farm. Of that total acerage, 340 acres will be allowed to grow back after construction is completed. Roads have been rebuilt and built up the slope and have started across Kibby Mountain’s ridgeline. The 25-square-foot by 5-foot thick, steel-reinforced cement foundations for the turbines, that will reach from tower base to tip of the blade 410 feet, are getting poured now.
From 8 to 10 truck loads of cement will be needed for each foundation. As the roads continue to be cleared across the top of the mountain, foundations will be poured. It is expected that 12 of the foundations will be poured before winter’s weather stops the work. All told, 22 turbines will eventually be installed and online by this time next year, said the project’s general contractor Jack Parker, president and CEO of Reed and Reed of Woolwich. This is Parker’s fifth wind farm project and his fourth in Maine. The following year, another 22 turbines are expected to be up and spinning on Kibby Range.
“It’s hard to tell with weather conditions when things will be completed,” Parker said. Just what kind of winter and mud seasons coming up is anyone’s guess, he said. Transmission line work and construction of a substation at the mountain’s base can continue despite the weather.
The tricky part will come next summer when the nine pieces of each turbine will be assembled by monster-sized cranes in the ever-blowing wind of the boundary mountains. Four sections of the tower are hoisted up and connected, then the rotor or hub is added with a generator each. And, finally, the 145-foot-long, 6.5-ton blades are lifted, hopefully in calm conditions of 8 to 10 mph wind, and attached.
“Once you pick it up, there’s no putting it down,” Parker said of the blades.
A few year’s of studies on the mountain have shown that the wind dies down a bit in the summer, said Cory Goulet, vice president for energy projects at TransCanada. In a kind of irony, the very wind that brought this project here may make erecting its turbines a bit difficult.
The blades are attached to the towers by workers from the inside. Goulet said the “room” at the top of the tower is about the size of a small bus.
“I love this work,” Parker said. Now, 70 to 80 people are employed on the project, some of whom are the sub-contractors of Franklin County. Next spring, a job fair will be held in Franklin County to attract the hundreds of workers needed to install the windmills, Parker said.
Of future wind farms, Goulet said TransCanada is looking at other locations in the state, including northern Maine and its windy boundary mountains. Parker said more wind projects are in the developing stages.