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Maine environmental agency OKs permit for state’s largest wind farm in Bingham

PORTLAND, Maine – A subsidiary of Boston-based First Wind gained final approval Monday to build the largest wind farm yet approved by state regulators.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection was expected to grant the permit for the company’s proposed wind farm in Bingham after it issued a draft order approving the 62-turbine, 186-megawatt project on Aug. 27.

The $398 million project by Blue Sky West LLC and Blue Sky West II LLC has been a focal point for wind supporters and opponents.

Chris O’Neil, president of the anti-wind group Friends of Maine Mountains, said in August that he expected the project to receive final approval despite his group’s concerns that the DEP had underestimated the amount of money it would require First Wind to have available for decommission the project.

The DEP’s draft proposal said the company proposed financing the project through a combination of equity investment in First Wind Holdings LLC and a line of credit or loan from a financial institution.

The proposed approval for the Bingham project sets out various conditions for the company to meet, including the purchase of 90 acres adjacent to the Cambridge Wildlife Management Area to lessen the impact on deer wintering areas designated by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Approval for the project follows the company’s victory before the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which in July allowed the Nova Scotia-based power company Emera to invest $333 million in a joint venture with the wind farm developer. After winning an earlier approval from the PUC, that partnership faced a challenge from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which asked the three-person PUC to determine whether the relationship violated the Legislature’s intent in deregulating the state’s power industry and requiring power transmission companies to divest of generation assets.

Emera is the parent company of Emera Maine, which owns the transmission networks of the former Bangor Hydro Electric Co. and Maine Public Service.

The company told the DEP in May that money from that partnership could be used to support part of its wind energy projects in Oakfield, Hancock and Bingham.

If the project is built, the company would deliver annual payments of $176,000 to Kingsbury Plantation, $106,000 to Bingham and $20,000 each to the towns of Abbott, Parkman and Moscow through earlier agreements it made with the towns to locate its project in and near those towns.

The project is subject to an appeal for 30 days from the date of the decision, which was issued Monday.