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Commissioners divided on Hancock Wind settlement

ELLSWORTH – In a split vote Tuesday, the Hancock County Commissioners agreed to settle with Hancock Wind over the amount of community benefit funds the wind farm has been issuing to the county.

Commissioners Bill Clark and John Wombacher voted in favor of the agreement. Chairman Antonio Blasi voted against.

Community benefit funds, which are required by Maine law, are an annual payment the company makes to Hancock County for the public good based on the wind farm’s revenues.

Hancock Wind is in Township 16 and Township 22 (located east of Eastbrook and Osborn, respectively).

The board signed a community benefit agreement with Hancock Wind in 2014.

In 2017, Hancock Wind sent the full amount of the agreed upon payment, $207,738. However, that year the wind farm asked for a reimbursement of part of the funds, according to Unorganized Territory Supervisor Millard Billings. The county denied the request.

2018 was the first year the wind farm sent less money than expected, Billing said.

That annual payment in 2018 was $18,873 less than what Hancock County thought Hancock Wind owed, said County Administrator Scott Adkins.

The agreement between Hancock County and Hancock Wind that was approved this week was reached through mediation and states the parties agree to an annual community benefit fund payment of $188,853.

At issue is a disparity in the “rating generating capacity” of the wind farm, Adkins stated in a press release. The wind farm is producing less power than originally anticipated.

Hancock Wind issued lower community benefit payments to the county based on the farm’s lower megawatt rating generating capacity.

“The CBA [Community Benefit Agreement] annual payment was based on the ‘rating generating capacity’ of 17 turbines providing 56.1 megawatts,” Adkins said. “Before going on line, Hancock Wind got approval to lower its output to 51 megawatts and contended its CBA payment should have been lowered as well.”

Blasi declined to sign the agreement based on the lower generating capacity and said the county had a 50 percent chance of winning if it sued Hancock Wind for the community benefit payments originally agreed upon.

Clark disagreed.

“Why would we expect them to pay a certain level of CBA funds when their revenue is being reduced?” Clark asked.

Clark recalled the words of the case mediator, who is a retired Maine Supreme Court justice.

“‘I could look at both of your arguments and agree with both of you,’” Clark said, quoting the mediator.

“That’s not what our attorney said,” Blasi countered.

“What we got out of this is in writing the assurance they would never reduce our CBA payment but we would get an increase in CBA funds if their output increased,” Clark said.

The county initially attempted a compromise with the wind company, Adkins said.

But after informal discussions failed, the county filed a civil action with Hancock County Superior Court asking for a ruling on the meaning of ‘rating generating capacity’ as defined in the county’s contract with the wind farm.

The agreement, reached with assistance from the mediator, prevents Hancock Wind from lowering the amount it is presently paying and requires the company to increase its payment if its output increases.

The agreement also stipulates that Hancock Wind would disburse $7,500 annually to Hancock County communities, Adkins said. Those annual payments will continue for 18 years.