Harnessing the Wind

Harnessing the Wind

Colby alumni bring booming wind-farm industry to Maine and the Northeast

By Douglas Rooks '76 | Photos by Heather Perry '93

Wind energy, not so long ago a quixotic curiosity, is transforming into a major contributor to the grid, and Colby alumni are key players. From the 13 Colbians at Reed & Reed to wind farm developer Matt Kearns ’93 to national wind energy expert Rob Gramlich ’91, Colby graduates have embraced both the environmental and commercial benefits of this fast-growing industry. Said Gramlich ’91, senior vice president for public policy at the American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C., “In the current economic and political climate, it’s one of the few things we have available.”
Driven by climate-change and other concerns, the energy-industry transformation is unfolding quickly as wind power is seen as one of the most viable, albeit challenging, energy sources for the Northeast. In Maine, signs that wind power is the future are everywhere. Since the first industrial-scale turbine complex went on line at Mars Hill in Aroostook County in 2006, proposals and permits have multiplied around the state. In perhaps the most dramatic installation of wind turbines, 22 towers have been erected on Kibby Mountain, a few miles from the Canadian border in northwest Maine. The turbines, built in Denmark, were shipped across the Atlantic on special ships, trucked across Maine (through Waterville), and installed on the mountain by Reed & Reed—a family company also known for bridge building, including the dramatic Penobscot Narrows Bridge near Bucksport, Maine, completed in 2007.

Without a doubt, the Kibby Mountain installation, owned by TransCanada, is a new and striking human achievement. The 160-foot blades revolve once every four to five seconds, creating mesmerizing shadows and filling the air with a relentless whoosh. Installing them along this rugged, 3,200-foot-high range was an engineering feat requiring moving of thousands of tons of rock for road building and bringing enormous, $2-million cranes to the tower sites.
Wind power 1
Workers for Reed & Reed maneuver a wind turbine blade into place at Stetson Mountain in Washington County, Maine.

Wind farms are a new venture for Reed & Reed but, in an indication of the potential seen in this industry, the Woolwich, Maine-based contractor has already become a major player. So far the company has worked on every industrial-sized wind project in New England, though CEO Parker knows that competition will soon be keen as more construction firms enter the business.

Parker first got the idea that wind energy might be in Reed & Reed’s future when, on vacation in California, he saw some early turbines in Altamont Pass. Then in 1994 Reed & Reed was picked to build a project in western Maine, but the plan was scuttled by falling energy prices and the developer’s bankruptcy.

Parker sees the new generation of wind developers using more advanced technology amid a more favorable alternative-energy climate as a solid opportunity. “We were first in the field and have reaped the benefits,” Parker said.

Though the project is not without its critics, including those who lament the erection of windmills in a remote area replete with wildlife and previously unspoiled views, the results on northwestern Maine’s Kibby Mountain are impressive. These are high-tech machines of considerable sophistication. Computerized controls adjust each blade’s angle to take best advantage of the wind. And, while the Kibby turbines are usually controlled by onboard computers, they—along with most of the wind turbines Danish wind-power giant Vestas has installed worldwide—are monitored from a Seattle office building by the manufacturer.
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  • On January 31, 2010, Mike DiCenso wrote:
    The windsprawl you write about has another side. Lawsuits abound in every place windsprawl has taken root. From sneaky dealings with local officials to outright bribes and corruption, Maine is under attack from a company whose Mafia founders are being investigated in Italy. When HydroQuebec will sell Maine power for 2cents per kw/hr and the Governor still pushes windsprawl power at 23 cents per kw/hr, you know something fishy is going on. Windsprawl is only a means for a select few to bilk tax dollars and grants while cashing in on RECs and RGGIs and whatever other wall street inventions might make them some serious cash. Contact the Citizens Task Force on Energy or the Friends of Lincoln Lakes. We have physics professors, doctors,etc who can explain in greater detail. I must say your article was well written but it is like putting lipstick on a pig.