November 21, 2014

Sale of First Wind won’t affect turbine project in Bingham, official says

By Rachel Ohm, Morning Sentinel | November 21, 2014 |

Officials from the company that wants to build a 62-turbine wind farm in northern Somerset County say the planned sale of the company should not affect the project. 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, Missouri, 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 received DEP approval in September to build the wind farm, known as the Bingham Wind Project, in Bingham, Kingsbury Plantation and Mayfield Plantation. On Thursday, the energy company filed paperwork with the Department of Environmental Protection giving formal notice of the sale.

“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 DEP. The department is in charge of licensing wind farms in Maine.

“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 United States, including five in Maine. Lamontagne said the sale is expected to be completed in early 2015.

The project has been stalled by appeals filed by a private citizen and by an anti-wind group. The project developers also are 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.

In its appeal, Friends of Maine’s Mountains says the DEP 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 objected 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,” said Chris O’Neil, director of government relations for Friends of Maine’s Mountains. “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.”

There is no deadline for the DEP decision.

On Wednesday, Somerset County’s Board of Commissioners approved a draft of an agreement creating a tax incentive zone around the wind farm that would let some of the property tax revenue it generates be used for economic development in the county.

A public hearing on the draft proposal is set for 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.

URL to article: