Machias Valley News Observer: Apex presents plans for $85M windmill project in Columbia, Township 19

Apex presents plans for $85M windmill project in Columbia, Township 19

by Tanya Rucosky, Machias Valley News Observer

Apex Clean Energy presented its proposed Downeast Wind Project at the Columbia Town Office on December 19. Apex Energy staff made presentations regarding the environmental and economic impact the proposed turbines will have on the local communities. Senior development manager Paul Williamson explained the 130-megawatt project in Columbia and Township 19 will include 30 wind turbines. He said it will provide enough clean electricity to power 36,000 homes.

Williamson gave a general overview of the project’s economic impact on Columbia and the surrounding communities. The 35 landowners who hope to host the windmills will receive over $1 million annual income from the project.  Further, the project will support the Unorganized Territory and Columbia with tax revenues of over $11.5 million during the 20-year life of the project.  All told, Apex projected over $15 million in taxes and tangible benefits will flow into the community. Another $85 million will come into the county in construction investment. Anticipating concerns about the project’s decommissioning, Williamson explained the project will be bonded from the outset to cover the cost of removal of the windmills when they reach the end of their projected operations.

Environmental Permitting Manager Goniela Iskali and Senior Energy Analyst Marcel Mibus discussed noise and environmental impacts from the project. Mibus presented sound modeling showing noise from the slowly turning blades would be on par with a human conversation at the nearest home, over half a mile from a windmill.

Iskali explained the permitting and studies undertaken to minimize impacts of the project to Upland Sandpipers, Whimbrels, Bald Eagles and three species of bats. She showed how the turbines had each been sited to avoid the two eagle nesting areas on Schoodic Lake. The windmills will also be placed away from the open barrens used by sandpipers and whimbrels. She explained those turbines which are planned to be on the edges of the sandpiper habitat will be shut down during the courting season at sunrise and sunset. Ms. Iskali mused, “They get a little distracted at those times.”  

Regarding eagles, she pointed out that not a single bald eagle has been killed in Maine by these large slow-motion style wind turbines. Finally, Iskali considered the impact of the windmills on bats at length.  Her research has shown shutting down windmills on nights when the wind is low, as well as placing acoustic deterrents on the blades, lowers bat deaths by 70 percent. She wrapped up her presentation by reminding the community that the single greatest cause of bird declines was climate change, and projects like Downeast Wind offered renewable low carbon power to the community.

Camp owners around Schoodic Lake expressed concerns about how the windmills will impact their views from the lake.  With new radar activated lights, the area’s dark skies would be protected, and no lights would be seen unless a low flying plane was in the area.  Further, Apex staff pointed out the windmills will not be visible from any state-designated scenic resource or historic site.  However, they acknowledged that the windmills would be visible from the lake and from the Great Heath. Williamson recognized some community residents’ views would be changed wherever the windmill project was placed.

A community member loudly retorted “We don’t care about somebody else’s view somewhere, we care about the view from Schoodic Lake!”

Williamson assured the community Apex remains open to project adjustments to meet local community members’ needs.

In the meantime, the local, state and federal permits, standards and setbacks are falling into place. Apex hopes to break ground on the Downeast Wind Project in 2021.