Maine’s largest wind farm gets preliminary approval

A proposal to build what would be Maine’s largest energy-generating wind farm has received preliminary approval from state environmental regulators.

The Department of Environmental Protection’s draft decision, issued Wednesday by Commissioner Patricia Aho, means the department could issue a final decision as early as Sept. 5. The deadline is Sept. 8.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday issued a draft order approving the project, proposed by a subsidiary of the Boston-based firm First Wind. That order will be subject to public comment and further review before final approval can be granted for the proposed $398 million project.

The proposed approval sets out various conditions for the company to meet, including the purchase of 90 acres adjacent to the Cambridge Wildlife Management Area to lessen the impact on deer wintering areas designated by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Approval for the project would be the latest victory for the wind developer, which won approval for a key financial partnership with the parent of power company Emera Maine in July after a challenge from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Critics of the Bingham project have echoed concerns related to wind farms elsewhere, including noise and wildlife impacts.

The company said in letters to the DEP in May that the $333 million partnership with Nova Scotia-based Emera could be used to support part of its projects in Oakfield, Hancock and Bingham. The company secured financing for its Oakfield project in May and began construction this summer.

First Wind has gotten approval for its Hancock project, planned to have 17 turbines generating up to 51 megawatts of power, but is fighting denial of another project on Bowers Mountain in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township.

The company first requested approval of the Bingham project in May 2013. The proposed wind farm would generate up to 186 megawatts with turbines in three communities: 11 in Bingham, 29 in Mayfield Township and 22 in Kingsbury Plantation.

The company has signed agreements with those towns to provide annual payments for locating the projects there. Those agreements would deliver annual payments of $176,000 to Kingsbury Plantation, $106,000 to Bingham and $20,000 each to the towns of Abbott, Parkman and Moscow.