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First Wind developing plans for 33-35 turbines in Bingham area

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine – Officials with First Wind LLC, a Boston-based wind energy company, told the Piscataquis County commissioners Tuesday that they are eyeing the installation of 33 to 35 wind turbines in Kingsbury Plantation and Blanchard Township.

The company is considering installing wind turbines along a ridge from Bingham to Blanchard, Alec Jarvis, First Wind’s project manager, said Tuesday.

The location of the proposed project in Blanchard is about five miles from the Appalachian Trail, Jarvis said later Tuesday.

First Wind has done extensive work in Maine, including the development of a wind power project in Washington County.

Jarvis cautioned that the Bingham project is in the early data collection stage and the company either has or will install meteorological towers with anemometers to gauge the wind speed in Bingham, Mayfield Township and Kingsbury. While the company gathers the wind speeds in the area, it also is conducting the necessary re-quired studies, he noted.

“We’ve met with all of the municipalities and the assessors in Kingsbury, and had public meetings, basically doing a real in-depth explanation of the project,” Jarvis said.

The commissioners were told such a project typically takes a year for the collection of the meteorological data to cover all seasons, followed by a six-month review by the Department of Environmental Protection of the findings. If there are no appeals of the project, the construction could start once the financing is in place, he said.

Asked what would happen if residents aren’t interested in having the wind turbines in their communities, Jarvis said towns have the ability to draft an ordinance or make zoning changes. A self-governing plantation such as Kingsbury, which employs the Land Use Regulation Commission as its land manager and where most of the turbines are proposed, could take the regulatory process back from LURC, according to Jarvis.

LURC also has land management jurisdiction in the Unorganized Territory community of Blanchard Township, which is governed by the county commissioners.

Shana Cook Mueller, a Portland attorney representing First Wind, also cautioned Tuesday that the project is just starting.

“It’s very early on in the stages of development. They have to do a lot of wind testing to make sure the project is viable in the area,” she said.

If the project were deemed viable, Mueller said, the company likely would look for the development of a tax increment financing district, which is used by counties and towns as an economic development tool. The establishment of a TIF district essentially freezes the property value inside the district. Any property taxes paid on the increase in property value in that area would be placed in a revenue fund for economic development purposes, she explained.

In the Unorganized Territory, property taxes are sent to the state and the Maine Revenue Services would direct any TIF revenues to the county, which then would administer that part of the TIF revenue fund, Mueller said.

A portion of that TIF revenue fund can be used to reimburse the property taxes paid by a developer in the district, and that’s the sort of direct incentive for economic development that First Wind would want, according to Mueller.

The company has to put together a package for its investors to get the project financed, and one thing investors are looking for is economic certainty for the payments that are required over the life of the project, Mueller told the commissioners.

If the project proceeded, First Wind would request a percentage of the TIF revenue to be reimbursed to it and the rest could be used by the county for economic development in the Unorganized Territory, she said.

There is nothing now in Maine law to develop a TIF in a plantation, but legislation is planned to change that, the commissioners were told.

As the project continues, Jarvis said, the commissioners will be updated.