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Sale of Hancock County wind farm project puts it on fast track toward completion

A Canadian investment firm has acquired the roughly $150 million Weaver Wind project in Hancock County and intends to begin installing turbines on the state’s newest wind farm in February.

The land-based wind farm project, which has been in planning stages for five years, is scheduled to be up and running by October 2020. It will comprise 22 turbines and is expected to produce 72.6 megawatts of wind energy, enough to power 15,000 to 20,000 Maine homes annually. The developer has signed a 20-year contract to sell its wind power to electric utility Emera Maine.

The firm, Fengate Asset Management of Toronto acquired the project from Longroad Energy Partners, which will continue to build and then operate the wind farm as a contractor. The purchase price was not disclosed.

When completed, the Weaver Wind project is expected to further boost Maine’s status as northern New England’s largest producer of wind power and add about 8 percent to the state’s total wind power generation capacity.

The project’s developers already have received approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection and said they plan to begin installing wind turbines in February.

“It’s quite busy right now,” said Longroad Chief Development Officer Matt Kearns, the Weaving Wind project’s lead developer, who works at the company’s Portland control center where hundreds of solar wind projects are managed. “We’re working through the winter.”

FOUR YEARS OF TESTING

Fengate is a 45-year-old asset management firm specializing in infrastructure that is based in Canada with offices in Ontario, British Columbia, Texas and New York. It has been working with Longroad since spring of this year, when the two companies signed an agreement to co-develop and finance the Weaver Wind project.

Longroad was founded by the former principals of Boston-based First Wind, Maine’s largest wind power developer, which they sold in November 2014 to Missouri-based renewable energy firm SunEdison for $2.4 billion. First Wind has invested nearly $2 billion over the past decade in nine Maine wind farm projects that produce a total of roughly 700 megawatts.

Kearns said Longroad optioned about 25,000 acres in Hancock County for the wind farm and has been testing the wind at various sites within that area over the past four years to determine the optimum locations to place turbines.

“That’s our fuel, so that’s what we finance around,” he said.

The turbines will be among the world’s tallest, measuring nearly 600 feet from ground to blade tip, and will be spread over a total of roughly 4,000 acres in the towns of Eastbrook and Osborn, Kearns said. But the site on which Weaver Wind’s turbines will be erected is at a relatively low elevation compared to other land-based wind farms – between 600 feet and 800 feet above sea level. Other wind farms of its type are situated on land as high as 2,700 feet above sea level, he said.

The site is near two other wind farms, Hancock and Bull Hill.

Weaver Wind began as a SunEdison project in 2014, but the company withdrew its application to build a slightly larger, 23-turbine wind farm on the site in August 2015 after a DEP staff analysis of the project raised concerns about the proposed wind farm’s potential impact on bats and migratory birds. A study by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that found the mortality risk to birds was the highest recorded for any wind project in northern New England.

Longroad later purchased development rights to the project from SunEdison and worked out a deal with DEP in which Longroad agreed to conserve over 5,000 acres of bird habitat spread across Hancock and Washington counties to offset any potential impact of the wind farm. The company also agreed to slow the turbines during peak bat migration periods.

Maine leads New England in wind power, with the state’s 375 installed turbines accounting for two-thirds of the region’s generation last year, a combined capacity of 923 megawatts. Last year, it ranked sixth in the nation for electricity generated from wind.

In 2018, 75 percent of Maine’s net electricity generation came from renewable energy sources (wood, hydro and wind), including 21 percent from wind, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Hydroelectric dams accounted for the greatest portion (31 percent), followed by biomass generators (22 percent, most of which use wood waste) and then wind.

Staff Writer Kate Cough of the Ellsworth American contributed to this report.