AUGUSTA — A bill to clarify what wind energy developers should pay communities that host wind projects has received unanimous support from the Legislature’s Utilities and Energy Committee.

A wind energy project now can earn swifter approval from regulators if a developer provides “significant tangible benefits” to a community.

That language is too vague, said Pete Didisheim, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Under the bill endorsed Thursday, developers would pay $4,000 per turbine, per year to host communities – in addition to local property taxes – for projects to be built in the future.

The money would not be earmarked for a specific purposes. And in some cases, a developer could choose to split the payment between a county and town, or among several towns.

Communities would still have the option of approving projects without benefit agreements, and they would be free to negotiate larger payments, the legislation says.

The bill, L.D. 1504, took shape after weeks of negotiations among developers, environmentalists, local government representatives and others.

Developers say they like the bill because it would give them more certainty in planning projects.

“It’s hard to budget around an unclear requirement,” said Dave Wilby of First Wind, which has built wind farms in Mars Hill and Stetson Mountain, among others.

“Now we at least know what the baseline is, so it eliminates one piece of uncertainty in the development process.”

The new benefit standard would not apply to existing projects.

But, at $4,000, it would be comparable to what developers have agreed to pay several communities for operating or pending projects.

TransCanada, which is about halfway through building its 44-turbine wind project in Kibby and Skinner townships, has agreed to give the nearby town of Eustis $1,000 per megawatt of energy produced per year for as long as its turbines turn.

If an expansion of the Kibby project is approved, as town officials hope, that could generate $150,000 a year for the town for at least the next 20 years.

“All of that money is going to go to offset the tax that we have to raise in the community,” said First Selectman Jay Wyman.

The owner of a home assessed at $100,000 could expect to save $150 a year, he added.

Washington County has used the $3.75 million it expects each year in property tax revenue from the Stetson wind project to contract with the Sunrise County Economic Council, which will administer loans and grants to promote and improve nature-based tourism, transportation infrastructure and other projects in the county’s unorganized territories.

“Investment spurs job creation,” said Harold Clossey, the council’s executive director.

But not everybody is happy about the proposed standard.

Chris O’Neil, who represents the Friends of Maine Mountains, said the bill is an acknowledgment that wind energy projects have a negative impact.

Communities don’t incur increased costs from wind projects, he said, but what he sees as an eyesore affects the whole state.

“We’re still not considering the cumulative impact to the state of Maine,” he said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

ewlanford@mainetoday.com