OSBORN – Is the prospect of having 14 wind turbines in your community worth receiving nearly $2 million in town coffers over the next two decades?
That’s the question residents of Osborn will be considering this month, as First Wind pitches a three-prong community benefits package as part of its planned third wind farm in Hancock County.
That wind farm, known as Weaver Wind, would be built in Osborn and Eastbrook, if it gains the necessary approvals. Most of the turbines – 14 of them – would be located in Osborn, while eight would be located in Eastbrook.
Under Maine state law, any developer seeking expedited permitting for a project – as First Wind is with Weaver Wind – must provide a minimum of $4,000 per turbine annually for 20 years to a host community, such as Osborn.
With 14 turbines slated for Osborn, that translates into $56,000 a year, or $1.12 million over 20 years. First Wind is going far beyond the mandated minimum, however.
It also is proposing making a one-time payment of $250,000 to Osborn that the town could use, as it sees fit, on public safety costs – services, equipment or other infrastructure, explained Charles Baldwin, development project coordinator for First Wind.
Baldwin said that proposal arose after talking with Osborn residents and hearing their concerns about public safety issues.
Additionally, First Wind is proposing a second payment of $500,000 for what it calls an “energy conservation fund.”
“This is really exciting to us,” said Baldwin, who was involved in the development of this proposal.
Baldwin said that whenever a wind energy project comes to a town, residents hope they might be able to see some reduction in their energy costs as a result. Because of the size of First Wind’s projects, however, it has to put any and all power it generates onto the regional grid, rather than sending any of it to local residents.
In Osborn, First Wind heard from camp owners on Spectacle Pond who said they would like to have power at their camps. Baldwin said it would have been cost-prohibitive for First Wind to string electric lines out to those properties, so the company came up with the energy conservation fund idea – which he called a first for the company – instead.
Through that fund, administered by the town, residents could use money for a host of purposes ranging from putting in insulation, replacing an old furnace or installing solar panels. Baldwin said there are a total of 124 property owners in town (this includes camps), which translates into just over $4,000 per property owner.
Osborn residents will have a chance to hear more about First Wind’s proposal at a public hearing this Saturday, Feb. 7, at 10 a.m. at the town office. The building is located at 197 Moose Hill Road (Route 179). Baldwin will be there to talk about the proposal and answer questions.
Then, on Saturday, Feb. 21, residents will vote on whether to accept First Wind’s proposal.
Baldwin said if the proposal is accepted, Osborn would begin receiving money after the yet-to-be-built project is constructed and operational.
In addition to helping with public safety and energy costs, Baldwin said First Wind’s proposal would have a significant impact on the town’s property tax rate. That rate currently stands at 10.8, meaning someone whose home and property is valued at $100,000 gets a tax bill of $1,080.
With the community benefit funds in place, Baldwin said the tax rate would drop and eventually level out at 2.7, meaning that same property owner’s tax bill would be $270 – a drop of 75 percent.
“That’s a big benefit to the community,” Baldwin said.
Asked why First Wind is going so far beyond the mandated financial minimum with regard to community benefit funds, Baldwin said the company wants to show residents it is “there for the long run.”
“We want to get started with these communities on the right foot,” he said. “We want to make sure people in the community feel good about the project.”
First Wind also is working with Eastbrook, which Baldwin said has elected to create a TIF (tax increment financing) district for the wind turbines within its borders.
First Wind also is planning to give $230,000 to the Lower Lead Mountain Pond Association to help build a new dam that would allow for fish passage, and to give $10,000 a year (over 20 years) to the Airline Riders snowmobile club to help maintain its trails.
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