OSBORN – SunEdison has withdrawn its application to the state to build a 22-turbine wind farm in Osborn and Eastbrook, though it plans to submit another application for the project in the future.
The proposal from the Missouri-based developer called for 14 turbines in Osborn and another eight in Eastbrook, a wind farm to be known as Weaver Wind.
SunEdison’s application to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was accepted as complete at the end of January. A draft analysis of the project was issued in mid-June, in which the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W) raised concerns about bird fatalities it said could result from the proposed project.
Citing data about the number of birds passing through the area at certain times of the year, IF&W said Weaver Wind “has the potential for large-scale mortality events.”
IF&W’s findings were the target of the ire of a large crowd at a public hearing in Aurora in June. Residents, wind farm employees and contractors dismissed those concerns and argued that cats, cars, hunters and loggers cause more avian deaths than do wind turbines.
In announcing its withdrawal of the application, SunEdison said it wants more time to fully respond to the issues raised by IF&W.
“There have been concerns raised about the potential impacts on some birds,” said SunEdison spokesman John Lamontagne on Friday afternoon. “We disagree with IF&W’s conclusions, but we want to respond to them.”
He said the company did not believe it could adequately respond to the concerns prior to the statutory deadline for the DEP review of the Weaver Wind application, which was set for Thursday, Sept. 17.
“We’re going to conduct additional study, follow-up and consultation on the project and plan to re-file at some point,” he said, adding that the company does not yet know when that might be.
Lamontagne said that although SunEdison is “disappointed we won’t be moving forward with this project as soon as we’d like,” the company is “optimistic” it can resolve any issues and that the project will eventually go forward.
If and when SunEdison submits a new application, the review process it will have to go through with DEP will depend on when the application is submitted and how different it is from the one that was withdrawn.
Maria Eggett, the DEP project manager for Weaver Wind, said developers will sometimes propose using a different type of turbine when submitting a new application. That can affect things such as what impact they have on noise, scenery and shadow flicker, meaning DEP would need to review those issues again.
If Weaver Wind is built it will be SunEdison’s third wind farm in Hancock County. The company inherited the already-operational Bull Hill wind farm (with 19 turbines) when it bought First Wind earlier this year and is also the developer for Hancock Wind (which is in the early stages of construction and will have 17 turbines).
Part of IF&W’s objection to Weaver Wind was that it said the wind farm’s proximity to the other projects would represent “significant adverse cumulative impact to migrating birds.”
Bull Hill and Hancock Wind are located in the unorganized territories of Township 16 and Township 22, to the east of Eastbrook and Osborn, respectively.
Both municipalities stand to see multi-million-dollar financial windfalls from the Weaver Wind project, in the form of new property taxes, payouts from SunEdison mandated by state law and – in Eastbrook’s case – a tax-increment financing (TIF) deal.
Those financial benefits will not arrive until the project is operational – which was projected to be several years down the road, even prior to Friday’s announcement – but both towns have been doing work now on planning how the money will be used.
In Eastbrook, the town will vote on the TIF proposal at a special town meeting set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at the town’s municipal building. A public hearing will precede the vote.
Eastbrook First Selectman Julie Curtis confirmed Friday afternoon that the meeting will take place as scheduled despite SunEdison’s decision to withdraw its application.
Erik Stumpfel, an attorney with Rudman Winchell in Bangor, has been working with the town on crafting the TIF proposal. He said Friday that going forward with the Sept. 15 vote means that if the town approves the TIF plan that night it will not need to repeat the process if and when SunEdison submits another application with the state for Weaver Wind.
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