Sunday, April 20, 2014
BINGHAM — A Boston-based wind power developer seeking to build a $398 million, 62-turbine wind energy facility in the area has encountered opposition from a local nonprofit group as the company begins the permitting process.
Blue Sky West, a subsidiary of First Wind Inc., filed an application on May 10 for a wind farm project in Somerset and Piscataquis counties and is waiting for approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection to determine whether they will proceed with the project. Construction could begin in 2014.
The department will have 10 months to determine whether to approve the proposal, Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Jessamine Logan said Monday.
Meanwhile, officials in Bingham and Moscow, two communities that will be affected, have said they support the project, although a local environmentally focused nonprofit group has said that they will oppose it.
The project would be built on ridges and hills along state Route 16 in the communities of Bingham, Moscow, Mayfield Township, Kingsbury Plantation, Abbot and Parkman, according to the application. Eleven turbines are proposed for Bingham, 29 in Mayfield and 22 in Kingsbury. First Wind has five operating wind farms in Maine and is developing a project in Oakfield.
The project plans include upgrades to existing roads and new roads to gain access to turbines and crane paths; up to five permanent and five temporary meteorological towers; an operations and maintenance building in Mayfield Township and above- and below-ground electrical collector lines among the turbines, according to the application.
According to Chris O'Neil, director of government relations for Friends of Maine Mountains in Weld, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of natural resources, reliable energy and affordable power, the organization plans to submit letters of opposition if the application by First Wind is accepted.
"It might be worth it if there was the demand for new sources of electricity, but it's something we don't really need," O'Neil said. He said Maine is already one of the nation's cleanest electricity-generating states, even while wind power in Maine provides less than 5 percent of New England's electricity.
O'Neil said wind farms harm the environment and economy with little return for the electricity they produce. The proposed project would run within 10 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a Maine landmark, he said.
"People don't walk 2,500 miles from Georgia to take a stroll through an industrial wind complex in Maine," he said. "Wind towers might be less ugly to look at if the balance sheet wasn't so ugly, but the truth is they're not going to take us off oil."
Bingham First Selectman Steve Steward said Monday that he thinks most people in his town support the project, although in the past there has been controversy about whether to provide tax relief for the developer.
Residents in Bingham approved the formation of a tax-increment financing district, or TIF, in 2011, although Somerset County commissioners denied a similar agreement for a portion of the project in Mayfield Plantation.
Steward said the town also has a community benefits agreement with First Wind, under which it will receive $8,000 per year for each tower the company builds in Bingham, which amounts to an estimated $106,000 per year for 20 years, he said.
In November, Moscow approved a similar plan, which will provide the town about $20,000 a year for 20 years. First Selectman Donald Beane said a majority of people in that community also support the project.
"I think it would help with our tax base, as well as in Bingham, and provide some jobs during construction," Beane said.
John Lamontagne, spokesman for First Wind, said that if the application is approved, the company hopes to start construction by 2014 and finish by 2015. It would need to find a buyer for the power and funding for construction first, he said. The company also is required by the Department of Environmental Protection to schedule two public meetings at which the public can provide input and ask questions, he said.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368