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Atlantic Wind advances Fletcher Mountain wind project in Somerset County

A sister company of Central Maine Power Co. is moving ahead with a wind power project that may include as many as 50 turbines on Fletcher Mountain in Somerset County.

Atlantic Wind, an indirect subsidiary of the Spanish utility Iberdrola S.A., which is also the indirect parent of CMP, filed a request with state utilities regulators earlier this month to begin planning a connection from the 100 megawatt wind farm to the power grid.

Paul Copleman, a spokesman for Atlantic Wind owner Iberdrola Renewables, said the timeline for the project depends on many variables, but the company could apply for a permit from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection as early as summer 2015.

“The timeline is a bit up in the air, but at the same time we’re certainly actively developing the project and continuing to evaluate a lot of the variables,” Copleman said.

Preliminary work includes studying wind patterns, as well as environmental and technical aspects of the project, which would include wind turbines in Concord and Lexington townships. The company has not yet proposed a specific footprint, which will come from continued study of the site.

Atlantic Wind is also moving ahead on studying other sites for wind farms in Maine, Copleman said. In July, the company leased more than 7,200 acres in Washington County, where it has erected some test turbines, but Copleman said the Somerset County project is closest to reality.

“We’re constantly evaluating other areas in the state and around the country that are in various stages of development,” Copleman said. “But [the Fletcher Wind] development effort is the one that’s the furthest along.”

At this stage, Atlantic Wind is seeking approval from regulators for CMP to negotiate a right-of-way and certain engineering work to prepare for connecting transmission lines to the project at an estimated cost of $75,000.

If approved, Atlantic Wind would pre-pay that amount to CMP.

The companies need regulatory approval for the transaction as a 2000 change in state law required power companies, such as CMP and Bangor Hydro Electric Co. (now Emera Maine), to divest of all power generation. That opened a competitive marketplace for power generators, and the regulatory process aims to make sure all generators are treated the same by power companies.

The Spain-based Iberdrola S.A. owns Iberdrola Renewables and Iberdrola USA. Iberdrola Renewables, based in Portland, Oregon, is the parent company of Atlantic Wind. Iberdrola USA, based in New Gloucester, Maine, is the parent company of CMP.

Those types of affiliations have raised controversy in the world of power regulation, with approval of a multi-million-dollar joint venture between the Nova Scotia-based Emera and First Wind generating two legal challenges in the Maine Supreme Judicial Law Court.

Emera, parent of Emera Maine, and First Wind reached a deal to scuttle that partnership in November. The Maine Public Utilities Commission is now hearing in that case arguments about whether Maine utility regulators need to give their blessing to the unwinding of the deal.

Copleman said the PUC’s rulings twice approving that affiliated interest between First Wind and Emera will serve as one guide for Iberdrola-related development of wind projects in the state, along with rules from the regional power grid operator and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

As for potential customers for Maine wind energy, Copleman said there was some early interest from Massachusetts in buying power from the Fletcher Wind project to satisfy its renewable power portfolio standard. Though market conditions are changing frequently, he said, the company is “optimistic about Maine and the New England market as a whole desiring more renewable energy.”

The company does not have any projects in the permitting phase with the DEP at this point. Recent projects have faced repeated appeals from local opposition groups and the statewide Friends of Maine Mountains, which has fought wind development in the Legislature.

Copleman said the company, which operates about 50 wind farms at various U.S. locations, will expect many more questions as the Fletcher Mountain project unfolds.

“We go into any development expecting that there will be an open discussion of what that project will mean for the community,” Copleman said.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission will hold its first conference on the interconnection proposal from the companies on Jan. 7, 2015.