Major wind power project underway in Somerset County

Dan CassidyINside the OUTside

by Dan Cassidy

Part 1 of 2

If you’ve been on the road anywhere between Skowhegan, Madison, Solon and Bingham, on Route 201 over the past several months, you may have been held up in a rare traffic jam, as state and local police escorts, support vehicles and huge tractor-trailer trucks transported massive towers, motors, blades and other related wind tower equipment to the Bingham, Mayfield and Kingsbury areas of Johnson Mountain off from Route 16.

According to the SunEdison website, manufacturers advanced solar technology is installing solar power systems that are supposed to deliver cost effective electricity to residential, commercial, utility and government customers.

wind power project in Somerset County

Of the 56 towers planned for the area, 11 towers will be installed in Bingham. Photo by Dan Cassidy

Turbine deliveries began in the fall of 2015, and there are several towers already in place.  The operation was suspended for about eight weeks due to spring posted road conditions, however Reed & Reed accelerated delivery of a large percentage of the project’s turbines during the winter months that allowed assembly to continue into the spring.

Reed & Reed and a team of highly skilled subcontractors are erecting turbines in two areas, with 36 turbines located just north of Route 16 and 20 turbines to the south.  They are currently on schedule for an early completion by this fall.

SunEdison hits bump in the road

The project hasn’t been all that easy, as SunEdison, once a poster child of the clean energy boom ran into financial troubles earlier this year, caused by a mountain of debt taken on during better times, according to their website.

“The decision to file for bankruptcy was a difficult, but important step to address our immediate liquidity issues,” Ahmad Chatila, SunEdison CEO said in a published statement.  The statement went on to say that SunEdison was flying high with shares trading above $33.  The collapse happened soon after. Earlier this spring, the shares were trading at about 34 cents.  Trading was halted shortly before the bankruptcy filing.

As far as the filing of bankruptcy protection affecting the Bingham project, the project has been financed and was acquired by Terra Nova Partners last year, according to SunEdison sources.  The bankruptcy should have no impact to the project whatsoever.

Choosing the Bingham region site

There were a lot of factors that went into the decision of erecting towers in the Bingham, Kingsbury and Mayfield area.  “We choose locations to build projects that require good wind speed in the area, access to transmission, limited number of residences or camps nearby, willing landowners, and local support,” said John Lamontagne, Senior Director of Communications at SunEdison, in an e-mail interview.  “All those factors were involved in this project, but especially the wind and the local support,” he said.

SunEdison is the head of the overall project, although they are working very closely with the owners of the project.  “Reed & Reed has been the general contractor on all the wind projects that SunEdison has built in Maine.  “They are a great partner with us.  That is their role at Bingham,” he said.

Tall towers

The towers are approximately 100 meters, (330 feet), and each will have three blades attached that are about 57 meters, approximately (188 feet).  In total, if a blade is standing straight up, the structure is about 157 meters, close to (515 feet).  The unit attached to the tower and what the blades are attached to is called the nacelle.  It is where the electricity is being generated.  The blade speed depends on the wind speed.  Collector lines are going to be installed and will be connected to a substation, which then sends the electricity via transmission lines, according to Lamontagne.

According to Lamontagne, there are three landowners that are involved in forestry where the project is taking place.  “Construction began on the project last year.  Clearing work was started, logging roads were widened, and collector cables were installed.  Towers didn’t start going up until March of this year.”

Lamontagne said that they plan to set up 56 turbines, each with a capacity of 3.3 MW.  “In total, the project is projected to power about 60,000 homes.  We expect the project to be online and operational by the end of the year.”

“The energy is being sold at a highly competitive price to customers, on par with natural gas,” Lamontagne said.  “Customers will have the benefit of clean energy at no additional cost on their electricity bills.”

(Continued next week)

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