Maine wind developer sets up conservation fund: strong message to Big Wind
Portland Press Herald, September 25, 2015
A $2.5 million fund for conservation projects across western, central and northern Maine has been set up as part of an agreement between the company building a wind farm in Bingham and a group that had sued to stop it.
SunEdison, a renewable energy development company, and Friends of Maine’s Mountains announced details of the deal in a statement Friday.
The first $1.5 million of the fund will go to projects being done by Maine conservation and environmental groups including the Trust for Public Land, Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, Forest Society of Maine, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Mahoosuc Land Trust.
Projects are spread across the state, from the western mountains through the Moosehead and Hundred Mile Wilderness regions to Katahdin. A second round of awards from the conservation fund will be disbursed in 2017.
The fund was created as part of the agreement reached by SunEdison and the Friends of Maine’s Mountains after the Bingham project got approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection last year. The Friends group later dropped its lawsuit to stop the project.
The agreement also stipulates that SunEdison will not use some sections of Maine for wind farms, that $250,000 will be dedicated to research for turbine bat deterrent technology and SunEdison will increase the decommissioning fund for the Bingham project by 50 percent.
In an telephone interview, Friends spokesman Chris O’Neil said the exclusion zone covers more than half of the state, including a 15-mile buffer on either side of the Appalachian Trail and around Baxter State Park.
“It sends a powerful message to any other wind developer that comes to Maine,” O’Neil said, adding that while this contractual agreement is only between the Friends and SunEdison, his organization is seeking to embed such restrictions in state law to preserve Maine’s scenic mountain vistas.
Construction of the $420 million 56-turbine Bingham wind farm started in July and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. The project is designed to generate 185 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the equivalent of 60,000 homes.
According to the statement, the Friends agreed to stop litigation against the wind farm in exchange for the provisions of the agreement.
“FMM is committed to preserving Maine’s unique natural resources, particularly its prized mountains,” Rand Stowell, founder and board chairman of Friends of Maine’s Mountains, said in the release. “Working with SunEdison on this agreement has allowed us to advance those efforts and fund important conservation projects in the state.”
The Friends group doesn’t benefit from the conservation fund, according to the statement.
“We have deep roots in Maine, many of us live here and we value the state as a special place that is worthy of protection,” Kurt Adams, SunEdison’s senior vice president and chief development officer, said in the release. “With the creation of the fund, we are excited to be able to work together with Friends of Maine’s Mountains and a number of Maine conservation and environmental organizations to preserve the state’s open spaces so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.”