A presentation by the Island Institute’s Maine Coast Community Wind Program Director George Baker took up much of the Camden Select Board meeting June 15.

Baker told the board that his group had been hired to assist the Camden Energy Committee in developing a plan of action in regard to the wind resource on Ragged Mountain.

“From preliminary work, it looks like the wind resource on Ragged Mountain is spectacular,” he said.

While no site has been determined and the town of Camden owns property at the ridgeline, that town property also abuts the Rockport and Hope town lines in some places, according to Town Manager Roberta Smith. She said officials from Rockport and Hope were invited to the meeting, but did not attend.

Baker proposed a three-phase project that would begin with a feasibility study costing between $50,000 and $70,000. This first phase would analyze the technical, logistical, economic and environmental aspects of installing wind turbines on Ragged Mountain.

He said that was not a lot of money to spend in order to provide a community with enough information to bring a project to a vote, but defining the community that would engage in the project was a challenge in this case.

“The definition of a community is clear when you’re on an island,” he said. Baker was a central figure in the development and installation of Fox Islands Wind’s three 1.5-megawatt turbines on Vinalhaven last year.

The second phase of a Ragged Mountain project, according to Baker, would be securing permitting and financing. He said this project development phase would cost between $300,000 and $500,000.

“If you get through that, you go into construction,” he said. That would be the third and final phase, and the cost would depend on the extent of the final plan.

What Baker’s group has done so far, he said, is to look into the structure of the entity that would oversee such a venture.

While the Fox Islands already owned the electrical distribution system for the towns of North Haven and Vinalhaven, Camden’s power comes from energy that is generated by a variety of sources and distributed by Central Maine Power Company and Bangor Hydro Electric Company.

Baker described CMP as “the FedEx of the electricity business.”

“In the existing regulatory environment, the Fox Islands model is not easily replicated,” he said.

Baker said that before beginning the project, the community needed to decide who would own and operate the turbines, and create a business structure that could gain financing. He said such a business structure was a new concept.

“Nobody’s tried to do this before,” he said. He said Camden could be a landlord, leasing the land to a private company that would build and operate the wind farm, or the town might build the facility itself. He said there were many ways to organize the project.

He said the benefits of a community wind project at Ragged Mountain included revenues and tax payments from a potential lease, lower electricity bills and greenhouse gas emissions, and advancement of the state’s renewable energy goals.

Baker said there were four options for distributing the electricity generated by a local wind farm.

The first option, and the one Baker said was his favorite, was a competitive electricity contract with an established provider such as the Constellation Energy Group.

Baker said the other options were working through Maine’s Community-based Renewable Energy Act, forming a community supply group, and setting up a net metering program.

He said the first option offered the benefit of working with an established provider and would allow the community to take advantage of federal subsidies that require a for-profit entity, through the involvement of what he called a tax equity investor.

In the case of Fox Islands Wind, that investor is Diversified Communications, which paid $5 million and owns 99 percent of the company. In exchange, Diversified receives a small dividend, but exercises “virtually no control over the company,” Baker said.

The Fox Islands Electric Cooperative owns the remaining 1 percent and makes all decisions not related to tax regulation.

The Community-based Renewable Energy Act, or L.D. 1075, passed in 2009 and allows community owned generators to sell power to a limited group of entities for up to 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

“But no one’s done it yet,” Baker said. He said such projects would be limited in scope, and organizing the project to comply with L.D. 1075 would not lower local prices.

He said a community supply group would be more expensive to set up and offered challenges in terms of timing.

The final option, which he referred to as Plan B, would be restricted to a smaller, 660-kilowatt generator. Baker said up to 10 local users such as schools, hospitals and municipal buildings could be part of such a project and they would be able to earn credit for power generated.

“The meter runs backward when generating,” he said, subtracting output from costs.

He said the major disadvantage of Plan B was the small scale of the project, but it could be a good small step to start with.

Town wants more information before swapping radio frequencies

The Camden Select Board also heard from Knox Regional Communications Director Linwood Lothrop, who requested that the town swap radio frequencies in order to allow Knox to broadcast dispatch calls from the top of Ragged Mountain.

Currently, both the Camden Police Department and Knox Communications have signals atop the mountain, but officials in communities to the west of Knox County have said the establishment of a simulcast system from the Knox frequency would interfere with their emergency communications.

Lothrop said the swap would improve signal reception in Appleton, Hope, Union and Washington. He said the frequency the police department would receive in the swap would broadcast from the Camden Opera House.

The board requested more information regarding the logistics of the change, its effect on emergency communications north of the Snow Bowl, and the willingness of towns to the west to agree with the transfer. Board members also asked for clarification of the license for the Knox County frequency.

In other business, the board approved the Snow Bowl and wastewater budgets as well as license renewals and committee reappointments.

The meeting, which began at 7 p.m., was adjourned shortly after 10:30 p.m.

The next meeting of the Camden Select Board will be held Tuesday, July 6 at 7 p.m. For more information, call the Camden Town Office at 236-3353

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.

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