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Bingham residents cancel meeting, discuss wind farm anyway  

Credit:  By Erin Rhoda, Staff Writer, Morning Sentinel, www.onlinesentinel.com 19 November 2010 ~~

BINGHAM – Officials canceled a public meeting about a wind development project Wednesday night, but that didn’t stop some residents from airing their opinions in the parking lot.

Town officials are still wondering why 600 postcards they say were sent to the post office never made it to residents’ mailboxes.

“Not a soul has gotten one,” said Selectman Steven Steward. Rather than have just a handful of people attend, selectmen and wind farm development officials from First Wind agreed to postpone the meeting.

In an interview Thursday, Alec Jarvis, with First Wind, provided updated information about the project’s potential distance from homes, its possible tax benefits and the company’s perceived financial health.

Residents will learn more on Wednesday, Dec. 1, about the proposed project to construct about 10 turbines in Bingham, with a total of up to 50 stretching north through Brighton Plantation, Mayfield Township, Kingsbury Plantation and Blanchard Township.

The meeting on Dec. 1 will be from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Quimby Middle School.

First Wind, which also operates Stetson Wind in Washington County, has been gathering wind data for about nine months from the ridge in northeast Bingham. While details are emerging, a turbine would likely top Johnson Mountain, Jarvis said.

The land for the proposed site is owned by Plum Creek and E.D. Bessey & Son, which buys and sells log wood. Both companies are willing to lease their property.

Jarvis said only one home is less than two miles from the turbines’ proposed site.

When asked why the company is looking to the Bingham area, he said the strong wind currents were “first and foremost” in the decision. The region also appears to have suitable locations below 2,700 feet for turbines. Development at higher elevations would harm a more-sensitive environment.

The area is relatively isolated, he added, and already has a network of logging roads, which would limit the number of new roads that would be built.

But some residents remain wary of the proposed change.

Standing in the parking lot outside the blackened windows of the Quimby Middle School gym on Wednesday night, six residents said the potential project would hurt their small community.

“If we start putting windmills on all our hills, it will ruin the quality of what we have. This valley is all we have left,” said Evelyn Beane, of Bingham.

She is not opposed to wind power, she said, but turbines should be located off the coast, where wind is strong and the energy produced benefits Maine residents.

Margy Flynn, of Bingham described the proposed project as a “temporary fix” that would not sustain long-term jobs or economic benefits.

First Wind officials have said the project could produce six to 12 long-term, full-time jobs.

The project would essentially hand taxpayer money to the Boston-based company, said Roderick Belanger, of Moscow, referring to federal stimulus funds granted to the company.

“I think it’s just a waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “There’s no benefit to the state of Maine or this community when it’s all said and done.”

The U.S. government has granted hundreds of millions of dollars to First Wind, according to an Oct. 25 article in Reuters. In July, the company received a $117 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. Since Sept. 2009, it has received $254 million in grants from the U.S. Treasury.

The company’s financial future may depend on continued government support, according to a Nov. 14 article in the Maine Sunday Telegram. One apparent hitch in the company’s financial future happened in October when it failed to go public and sell stock to investors.

While opponents at the time said it was an example of the company’s vulnerability, Jarvis said the company’s health is not in jeopardy.

“It would have been an opportunity for an additional source of funding,” he said. “It has not affected our development efforts in Bingham.”

First Wind is mostly owned by private equity firm Madison Dearborn and hedge fund operator D.E. Shaw and has never been profitable, according to Reuters.

Jarvis said he encourages people to attend all informational meetings and take tours of the company’s facilities. He emphasized the benefit of new legislation that mandates payment of $4,000 per turbine to go toward a host community benefit agreement.

The town may also form a tax-increment financing district to capture shifts in property value and then spend the money on economic development projects, he said. If the TIF district is not formed, he agreed taxes would most likely go down, but the resulting increased valuation would cause loss of education subsidy, he said.

In the meantime, the mailing misstep will remain a mystery. First Wind sent the notices from Portland to the town’s post office on Nov. 4, to then be given to residents, Jarvis said. The company paid for the postage for the notices, which provided the date and time of Wednesday’s meeting.

Cathy Atkins, the town’s postmaster, said she doesn’t remember ever receiving the postcards. While she’s been on vacation recently, “I’ve had two people working for me, and they’re very reliable,” she said.

Source:  By Erin Rhoda, Staff Writer, Morning Sentinel, www.onlinesentinel.com 19 November 2010

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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