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First Wind proposes 62-turbine farm in western Maine

First Wind has proposed building what could become the largest wind farm of its kind in New England. If the project is approved, 62 turbines would span Bingham, Mayfield Township and Kingsbury Plantation in Somerset and Piscataquis Counties. In its application, the developer says it spent four years analyzing the potential effects on wildlife habitat and the environment. And while the company says the impacts will be minimal, environmental and conservation organizations say they’re still doing their own assessments. Jay Field reports.

The turbines would be built on the ridges and hills around Route 16 and Johnson Mountain.

“We’ve been measuring the wind there for over three years now, and have found it to be a very viable resource in that area,” says David Fowler, who heads up New England development for First Wind.

Fowler says the project would generate 186 megawatts of electrcity – enough to power as many as 87,000 homes. Earlier this month, the company filed an application with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, triggering a 180-day review period. The project also needs local permits and the blessing of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Fowler says the company needs to get state approval by the end of December to take advantege of the federal wind power tax credit. “It did get extended for another year,” he says. “So that is a subsidy that we are eligible for – if, in fact, we can qualify within that time period. It is a 30 percent tax credit.”

But the project is not likely to be approved without a fight.

“People talk about responsibly-located projects – we really don’t think that there’s a whole lot of any place good in Maine for these things,” says Chris O’Neil, who is with the group Friends of Maine’s Mountains.

O’Neil says the Bingham Project is in an especially bad spot, near one of the most beautiful stretches of the entire Applachian Trail, near Monson. O’Neil worries the development would harm the quality of place in the region. He says there’s little economic evidence that the energy benefits are worth the potential environmental costs.

“We’ve addressed all of the concerns,” Fowler says, “the local environmental concerns, at least, with wetlands, birds and bats, lynx and all the other aspects we’ve spent a couple years studying now.”

Fowler says the Bingham application lays out all the reseach the company has done, showing that the project won’t harm the surrounding environment.

In e-mails to MPBN, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the state chapter of the Sierra Club say they’re still reviewing the First Wind’s application.

[audio available]