Power Plant of the Week - Mars Hill Wind

Most recent PPotWs have been older fossil plants so we thought we'd shake it up a bit and profile a utility scale renewable generating asset. First Wind's Mars Hill Wind Farm is a great place to start. Its located in Aroostook County, Maine and was the first utility scale wind project constructed in New England. Mars Hill has 28 1.5 MW wind turbines with a nameplate generating capacity of 42 MW and is owned and operated by a First Wind subsidiary called Evergreen Wind Power, LLC. Emera, the Canadian utility that owns Bangor Hydro, is an equity partner in the project. It came online in March 2007 and has been reliably generating energy ever since.

Mars Hill wind turbines. Photo originally appeared on Xconomy.com

Mars Hill wind turbines. Photo originally appeared on Xconomy.com

First Wind is the company formally known as UPC Wind and they began initial work on the Mars Hill project in 2003. By 2005 they were ready to build, but the looming expiration of the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) put the project on hold. The uneven lapses and renewals of the PTC have been a chronic problem in the wind industry for years and have created havoc and inefficiency throughout the wind supply chain. In the second half of 2005, President Bush signed EPACT 2005 and the PTC issue was resolved. In addition, First Wind had sorted out issues regarding the eligibility of the Mars Hill project for Class I Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) in CT and other New England states. 

The reason for the uncertainty in REC eligibility was due to the fact that Aroostook County, ME is not connected to the ISO-NE power grid. Its served by Maine Public Service (MPS), which is connected to the New Brunswick, Canada grid. The output from Mars Hill is connected to the MPS system via a 69 kV transmission line and primarily serves local native load. The REC issues were ultimately resolved and the project was constructed in 2006 and brought online in 2007. 

Although the Mars Hill project is largely considered a success, it has had its share of controversy. Wind developers and regulators are still learning how to assess, prevent, and mitigate noise and acoustic issues related to wind turbines. While newer designs tend to be quieter, the issue isn't going away. Here is a link to an article regarding the complaints of certain Mars Hill neighbors who claim that the noise from the turbines is having a negative impact on their properties and well-being. 

Although Mars Hill was first, several other wind developments quickly followed in ME and the region has several additional pending projects. ME's sparse population, good wind resources, REC markets in New England states, and proximity to load centers in ISO-NE make it a great place for wind development. You can keep in touch with First Wind via their Facebook page.