First Wind presents plans for constructing a generator lead line along Gales Road

By Bill Pearson
Staff Writer

    ABBOT — The town line between Abbot and Parkman has become a focal point in a New England power company’s attempt to transport electricity generated at a Somerset County wind farm to customers in the Northeast. First Wind, an independent North American renewable energy company based in Boston, wants to construct a generator lead line from their proposed 62-turbine wind farm to the Central Maine Power substation in Parkman.

    First Wind has already entered into a community benefits agreement with Parkman and the firm is looking to do the same with Abbot. The firm held an information meeting with 28 Abbot residents on Feb. 5 to provide details about the company’s estimated $500 million project. First Wind Director of New England Development David Fowler how the project would impact the community.

    Fowler explained that First Wind was offering the town a “nearly identical” CBA to the one accepted by Parkman during a Feb. 2 special town meeting. The agreement calls for First Wind to pay Parkman $20,000 per year for 20 years if a generator lead line operates within the town.

     He further explained under the state’s Wind Energy Act that power companies are obligated to provide tangible benefits to participating communities. First Wind plans on generating power from 62 turbines in Bingham, Kingsbury Plantation and Mayfield. The act requires renewable energy providers to provide communities with $4,000 a year per turbine. The act doesn’t compel companies to provide compensation for non-turbine activities such as power transmission lines.

    “This is something that we are not required to do,” Fowler said. “However, First Wind feels it’s imperative that any town associated with this project should receive something for it.”

    First Wind plans on sending electricity generated at their Bingham project from Kingsbury Plantation to Abbot along a two-mile route along the Gales Road into Parkman. Fowler has negotiated several deals with private landowners to place transmission lines on their property. 

    Residents questioned Fowler about the proposed route, health and safety considerations posed by the transmission lines and about former Gov. Angus King’s role in the company.

    Fowler explained that First Wind had previously considered a route from Kingsbury Plantation into Monson which still would’ve gone through Abbot in a different location. First Wind decided to bypass Monson due to the town’s moratorium on privately owned power projects.

    “We didn’t make an offer to Monson because they had a moratorium in place and we didn’t want to wait for them to create an ordinance dealing with projects like ours,” Fowler said. “We have chosen the current route because it runs along a path that isn’t as congested as others. This one stays away from both downtown Abbot and Guilford on its way to Parkman.”

    Fowler also indicated that Angus King had sold his interest in First Wind in order to run for the U.S. Senate. King no longer has a position within the company, but his son, Angus King III, is  vice president of mergers and acquisitions with the company.

    Residents also asked about running the transmission lines underground to avoid the “buzz and hum” and other negative health-related factors. Fowler reported that underground lines were considered, but the company decided against them due to an “excessive cost.” He also stated that his project had no association with the East-West Highway and that First Wind had no eminent domain authority because it wasn’t a public utility.

    Tom Ronco is a Gales Road resident who isn’t happy about the prospects of transmission lines being located 150 feet from his home. He believed the town should enter into a CBA agreement with First Wind because the firm doesn’t need the town’s approval to proceed with project.

    First Wind is required to have their proposal approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection and Army Corps of Engineers. The firm must also apply for pole permits from the board of selectmen.

    “We really don’t have a choice here. They can do whatever they want without our approval. So our choice is either to accept the money or not,” Ronco said. “This really goes back to our voting down the comprehensive plan three times. By sticking our heads in the sand this is what we are left with. I’m not saying a comprehensive plan would’ve stopped this project, but it would’ve given us more say over it.”

    Fowler advised the residents that they still options as far as whether they wanted the transmission lines spanning over two miles in their town. He indicated they still had the option to adopt a moratorium and if town sentiment was dead set against his proposal then he may have to reconsider.

    “If the vote on the CBA was 100-0 that might persuade me to seek another option,” Fowler said. “I can’t guarantee that will happen because I still need to consult with our executive council, but without community support it makes the project more difficult.”

    Residents will decide on whether to accept the CBA during a future town meeting. The proposal probably won’t be placed on the warrant for the March 18 town meeting. Residents believed the proposal would require a lengthy discussion and not be the right forum during the annual town meeting.

    Fowler indicated if the town held a special town meeting that First Wind would compensate the town for any additional costs.

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