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Hancock County, wind firm head to mediation over $38,000

Hancock County is at odds with the developer of a local wind farm over about $38,000 that the county says the developer owes in community benefit payments.

Hancock County commissioners are meeting Thursday in Bangor with representatives of Hancock Wind, owned and operated by Novatus Energy, to see if they might work out a deal. Hancock Wind is a 17-turbine installation in the Unorganized Territory northeast of Ellsworth that was erected in 2016.

The lawsuit was filed last fall after the energy firm withheld $37,770 in community benefit payments from the county. The county argued it was owed the money in keeping with a financial contract, or a community benefit agreement, it reached with Novatus’ predecessor, First Wind, in September 2014.

The agreement calls for Hancock Wind to pay the county $3,703 annually for each megawatt of the project’s overall generating capacity, according to documents filed with the state’s business court in Portland.

Dan Mitchell, an attorney representing the windpower developer, declined Wednesday to comment on the matter.

“We regret there’s litigation, and we’re working through it the best we can with the county,” Mitchell said. “Although there’s more we’d like to say, now’s not really the right time, as it’s an ongoing case.”

Antonio Blasi, chairman of the county commission, also declined Wednesday to comment on the dispute, citing the confidential nature of the mediation.

At issue in the dispute is how to gauge the “rating generating capacity” of the turbine installation. The county says that the turbines each have a generating capacity of 3.3 megawatts, which would translate into a total project capacity of 56.1 megawatts, but the company says that the power-converter system on each turbine actually limits their output to 3 megawatts apiece, which would give the project a total generating capacity of 51 megawatts.

The difference between those interpretations means that the county thinks the annual community benefits payments should total $207,738.30, while the company thinks they should be $188,853.

After paying the county $207,738.30 in November 2016, the company reconsidered and asked for $18,885 back, saying it had overpaid, according to court documents. The county declined to return the disputed amount, and the following year the company paid the county just shy of $170,000, saying it reflected the appropriate annual payment and a deduction of what the company said it had overpaid the county the year before.

After the county sued Hancock Wind, the company countersued, arguing that the agreement called for the county to cover the company’s legal expenses if the project is challenged in court – including the county’s claim of breach of contract.

A judge dismissed the counterclaim this past spring, calling the company’s argument “absurd.”