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Massive Somerset County wind farm proposal draws praise, criticism

MOSCOW – A 62-turbine wind farm would bring a lot of money to the small communities in northern Somerset County, but some residents at a public hearing tonight said they are concerned about what it would do to the character of the area.

Residents from Bingham, Moscow, Lexington Township and the surrounding areas spoke at a public hearing tonight, many in support of the project, proposed by Boston-based First Wind, saying it will bring needed money.

Those opposed said the project, which would be the biggest wind farm in the state, poses a threat to the environment and the rural peace of the largely undeveloped land.

Mark Bergeron, a representative for the Department of Environmental Protection, said the meeting was to gather public input on First Wind’s application, a decision on which will be made by the department in November.

The project would have 11 turbines of up to 492 feet high in Bingham, 22 in Kingsbury Plantation and 29 in Mayfield Township.

First Wind and some of the organizations and towns that will be proposed wind farm’s area have struck “community benefits agreements” that would bring money to the towns in the project area.

Kingsbury Plantation would get the most money – $176,000 a year for 20 years from the company. Bingham would get about $88,000 a year for 20 years and Moscow would get $20,000 for 20 years, according to First Wind.

Leo Hill, a Bingham resident, said the economic benefit to the town is the main reason he supports the project.

“I am very much in favor of this project. We are desperately in need of the revenue. Every year is comes up before the school board the question of whether we should close one of the schools,” said Hill, who is on the board of directors of School Administrative District 13 and the owner of Gateway Recreation & Lodging in Bingham.

Opponents of the project say its effects on the environment could be devastating with very little return.

David Corrigan, 35, of Concord Township, a registered Maine Guide, who leads hunting, fishing and recreational trips in the area, said he was concerned about preserving the area’s rural character and that he hoped the department would take into account the welfare of wildlife in the area, specifically golden eagles. He said the birds are known to inhabit the ridges where the turbines are proposed.

Mike Bond, a former executive with the energy company CEnergy and an energy consultant, said that wind energy contributes to less than one percent of the nation’s electricity.

“It’s not worth it. The effect on your communities will be tragic,” he said.

There were also a few people who hadn’t taken a position.

Lou Sidell, a resident of Kingsbury Plantation and the town’s first assessor, said that as a town official he was neither for or against the project.

He acknowledged that Kingsbury Plantation would be the largest beneficiary, bringing in much-needed money for projects such as repairing an old dam.

The small community, which has only 27 year-round residents but about 200 landowners, has people both in support of and against the project, said Sidell.

According to the town’s most recent comprehensive plan survey however, most residents said they did not want to see the rural character of the area change.

“What I will tell you is that people who are opposed to it are almost to the point of being emotional,” said Sidell.

Blue Sky West, a subsidiary of First Wind Inc., filed its application for the project in Somerset and Piscataquis counties on May 10. If approved, construction could begin in 2014.

The project would be built on ridges and hills along state Route 16 in Bingham, Moscow, Mayfield Township, Kingsbury Plantation, Abbot and Parkman, according to the application.

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.