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

While Jack Parker concentrates on finances and project planning, his brother-in-law, partner, and Reed & Reed co-owner, Tom Reed, spends much of his time in the field, which he says suits him. A day in the office is, by definition, a day when he’d rather be somewhere else, he says.

Jack Parker and Tom Reed
Jack Parker ’76, left, and Tom Reed ’87, owners of Reed & Reed, Inc.
During the summer of 2009, Reed was dividing time between a bridge replacement in Norridgewock and the Kibby Mountain site, among others. He readily acknowledges that there was a steep learning curve involved in putting up towers and turbines in such rugged and remote terrain. Harking back to the company’s pioneering Mars Hill project, in northern Maine, he said, “We struggled at first, and when we went to put the first turbine in place, some of us held our breath.” But all went well with that first turbine, and now wind power contracts have “changed the face of the company,” Abigail Parker ’01 said.    

Wind power’s rise has also drawn wind-power developers’ operations to the Northeast, including one headed by Matt Kearns ’93. Kearns is vice president of Northeastern business development for First Wind, once a small Massachusetts company that has grown to develop wind farms from Hawaii to Atlantic Canada and that has now taken the lead in wind-power development in New England—including the Stetson Mountain project.

An environmental studies major at Colby, Kearns did a Jan Plan with Maine-based Kleinschmidt Associates engineering. That month led to full-time work and to a career in renewable energy. After five years with a major hydro developer, Kearns decided he wanted to return to New England. The First Wind office in Portland where he now works has nearly as many employees (16) as the entire company did just a few years ago.

Kearns was eager to return, he says, because he’s sure renewable energy needs to be a greater part of the electricity mix in New England. “The opportunities for new hydro generation here are very limited,” he said, “but the wind resource is very significant.”

Kearns, working for First Wind, oversaw development of the Stetson Mountain project, with Reed & Reed as the building contractor. The first phase came on line in January 2009, and the second, including the tower described above, is expected to start producing power in mid 2010. Stetson’s combined capacity is 82 megawatts and, along with the operating Mars Hill site and projects in the permitting stages for Rollins Mountain in Penobscot County and Oakfield in Aroostook County, First Wind expects to have 236 megawatts on line within two years. The Kibby Mountain complex, owned by the Canadian energy giant TransCanada, uses larger turbines and will produce 112 megawatts, enough electricity to power about 112,000 homes.

In the shift away from fossil fuels, nuclear power has acquired new advocates, but any new plants are a decade away, with similar timelines for deep offshore wind platforms. In the meantime, land-based wind farms are creating energy—and jobs.“You can’t discount the effect on jobs in manufacturing and construction,” Gramlich said. “This is one of the few new opportunities we have to get people back to work.”

Most of the $50 million First Wind spent on the first stage at Stetson went directly to Maine companies, not just for environmental and engineering studies, but for less obvious purchases—from thousands of bales of hay grown by Maine farmers to large numbers of hemlock ties to move big machinery. “There’s been a lot of discussion of the costs of wind power, but there are a lot of benefits, too,” he said.
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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.