ELLSWORTH, Maine – While reserving judgment on the proposal itself, Hancock County commissioners voiced general support on Tuesday for financial arrangements that would result from wind turbine development in Township 16.
Boston-based First Wind is looking to erect 19 wind turbines in Township 16 as part of an 80-megawatt wind power facility that also would include turbines in neighboring Eastbrook. State law requires wind power developers to offer to establish some form of community benefit agreement with the their host communities, which is why First Wind representatives met Tuesday afternoon with county commissioners.
Dave Fowler, senior land manager for First Wind, told commissioners that the company hopes to file its permitting application for the proposed Township 16 turbines with the state’s Land Use Regulation Commission by the end of this month. As part of the application, he said he wanted to include information about tentative support from the county for a community benefit agreement with the county.
According to Fowler, such an agreement ostensibly would provide the county with an annual payment of $4,000 per turbine, which for 19 turbines would total $76,000. But, he said, it doesn’t have to be a cash payment. First Wind could give the county the monetary equivalent in conservation easements or other types of services, he said, or some combination of cash and services. The funds would be unrestricted, which means the county could spend the money as it saw fit.
One noncash benefit could be space on the company’s permanent meteorological towers for county communications equipment, if the towers proved to be effective for such a purpose, Fowler told commissioners.
First Wind also is seeking to establish a tax increment financing agreement, or TIF, with the county. By establishing a TIF district that includes the wind turbine development site in Township 16, First Wind would recoup $5.4 million of the taxes generated by the project. The projected total value of the turbine facility is $69 million, according to Joan Fortin, attorney for First Wind.
The county, acting as the governing municipal body for Township 16, would keep the rest of the taxes, the amount of which would depend on whether First Wind and the county sign a 20-year or 30-year TIF agreement.
With a 20-year TIF agreement, the county could receive a total of $1.37 million of the total $6.8 million in taxes that would be generated by the project. With a 30-year TIF agreement, the county could receive a total of $3.7 million of the $9.1 million in taxes that would be generated.
The county would have to spend the tax money on projects in the TIF district. First Wind officials said the district can be made up of several noncontiguous parcels but must be located entirely in the county’s unorganized townships.
Among some of the uses county commissioners said the money could be put toward included maintaining roads, parking areas or boat ramps in the unorganized townships. Construction of a transfer station for unorganized township residents also could be funded with TIF or other community benefit funds.
County commissioners made it clear that, by voicing tentative support for the general concepts of the financial arrangements, they were not endorsing the wind development project itself. The commissioners said they expect to participate in the LURC review and to weigh in on whether they favor or oppose the turbine development proposal.
“If we don’t go along with it, it probably won’t happen,” said Percy “Joe” Brown, chairman of the commissioners. “I’m not going to support a project that’s bad for the people of Eastbrook.”
The commissioners voted 2-0-1, with Commissioner Fay Lawson abstaining, in support of the general concept of establishing a TIF and a community benefit agreement with First Wind. Commissioners also said they would get independent legal advice before they signed any financial agreement with First Wind.
Eastbrook has been working on drafting a local wind power facilities ordinance that would govern where and how wind turbines could be used within the town’s limits. A public hearing on Eastbrook’s proposed wind power facilities ordinance is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 29, at the Eastbrook town office on Route 200.
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