The Maine Board of Environmental Protection will meet this week to consider an appeal of the Bingham Wind Project by the anti-wind group Friends of Maineâ€™s Mountains, although a draft order on the appeal has preliminarily dismissed the groupâ€™s complaints.
The group alleges that Blue Sky West, the company proposing to build a 56-turbine commercial wind farm in Somerset County, has not met required state standards for proving financial capacity or decommissioning plans. Their appeal also criticizes the Department of Environmental Protection for not properly evaluating the scenic impact of the wind farm or its impact on wildlife.
In a draft order posted on the boardâ€™s website, the board denied the groupâ€™s request for a public hearing on the project and upheld the decision of the DEP. The proposed 56-turbine wind farm was originally approved by the DEP in September and since then has also gained approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
â€śWeâ€™re not surprised to see the DEP staff defending their original decision,â€ť said Rand Stowell, a member of the board of directors at Friends of Maineâ€™s Mountains in a news release. â€śEven though it is a rare occurrence, we hope that (they) will overturn the decision. But if they wonâ€™t overturn it, at the very least we would like to see some stricter conditions placed on the permit.â€ť
The Bingham Wind Project, which would place turbines in the town of Bingham and neighboring communities Mayfield Township and Kingsbury Plantation, is estimated to cost $398 million.
In the draft decision, the board ruled that First Wind Holdings, the parent company of Blue Sky West, has proven financial capacity and currently has over $2.1 billion in assets. They also state that scenic character was evaluated using criteria set forth in the Wind Energy Act and that there are no scenic resources of state or national significance within eight miles of the project, the standard set by the Wind Energy Act.
Friends of Maineâ€™s Mountains also states that they are disappointed with the DEPâ€™s evaluation of plans for decommissioning the wind farm if it goes out of use and states that the amount of money First Wind estimated for decommissioning the wind farm â€“ between $1.6 million and $1.7 million â€“ was greatly underestimated in their application. DEP regulations require that a decommissioning plan be fully funded prior to the start of construction. Stowell said Friends of Maineâ€™s Mountains may appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
â€śWeâ€™d like to see much tougher standards on the question of decommissioning wind turbines when theyâ€™ve exhausted their useful life. We find that, generally, this issue does not get astute consideration from policymakers,â€ť he said.
First Wind has community benefit agreements set up with the towns of Bingham, Moscow, Abbot, Parkman and Kingsbury Plantation that fund annual payments to each community based on the number of turbines that will be constructed. Under the agreement, the town of Bingham will receive $106,900 per year and Kingsbury Plantation will receive $176,000 per year for the next 20 years.
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