Officials from the company that wants to build a 62-turbine wind farm in northern Somerset County say the recent sale of the company should not affect the project, but a spokesman for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday that it’s too soon to tell.
Earlier this week, TerraForm Power Inc. agreed to sell project developer First Wind, a subsidiary, to SunEdison, Inc. of Maryland Heights, Mo., for $1.1 billion. The purchase price could hit $2.4 billion if specified solar and wind energy projects are pursued to “substantial completion,” according to a filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.
First Wind, the energy company proposing the wind farm, filed paperwork with the Department of Environmental Protection Thursday giving formal notice of the sale to the agency.
“The bottom line is that we will evaluate this information, and we need to look at it to determine if it’s going to have an effect on the application itself,” said Karl Wilkins, acting director of communications for the Maine DEP. The department is in charge of licensing wind farms in Maine.
“We need the time to look at the information that was just submitted regarding the sale,” said Wilkins.
In September, First Wind received approval from the department to build a 62-turbine wind farm, known as the Bingham Wind Project, in Bingham, Kingsbury Plantation and Mayfield Plantation. An appeal of that approval is now pending before the state Board of Environmental Protection, while a second appeal has been dismissed.
An official from First Wind said the sale should not impact the progress of the project.
“We’re still moving forward with it. It’s business as usual essentially,” said John Lamontagne, a spokesman for First Wind. The company owns and operates several wind farms across the U.S., including five in Maine. Lamontagne said the sale is expected to become final in early 2015.
The project has been stalled by appeals filed by a private citizen and by an anti-wind group. The project’s promoters are also waiting for a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before construction can begin. An appeal by Carthage resident Alice McKay Barnett was dismissed by the Board of Environmental Protection in October. The second appeal, filed by the group Friends of Maine’s Mountains, is still under consideration by the board.
It is also too early to tell whether the sale will have an effect on the pending appeal, said Wilkins.
“We don’t know yet. We’re trying to figure out whether this will affect the project,” said Chris O’Neil, director of government relations for Friends of Maine’s Mountains. In its appeal, the group says the department has not demanded enough proof of financial capacity from First Wind, which came under financial scrutiny last spring when a joint partnership with Nova Scotia-based Emera was twice challenged in court and before state regulators.
Friends of Maine’s Mountains also raised objections to the project based on what it termed inadequate methodology for assessing scenic impact and inadequate reserves for decommissioning the wind farm should it become obsolete. The group also stated in the appeal that Maine’s Wind Energy Act is outdated and overestimates the benefit of wind energy infrastructure.
“We don’t know how this new deal affects the Bingham project. It appears SunEdison has provided incentives for First Wind to complete projects that are currently under development, but we won’t know the details of their corporate arrangement until after the deal closes early next year,” O’Neil said. He said the group hasn’t heard any update on the status of the appeal. There is no deadline by which the department must issue a decision.
On Wednesday, Somerset County’s Board of Commissioners approved a draft of a TIF agreement creating a tax incentive zone around the wind farm that would allow some of the property tax revenue generated from the wind farm to be used for economic development in the county.
A public hearing on the draft proposal is set to be held on Dec. 22 before county commissioners take a final vote on it. County Commissioner Bobby Dunphy said Thursday that the proposed TIF district should not be affected by the sale.
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