Kibby wind power project given final approval today

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ORONO — The Land Use Regulation Commission governing committee met today and approved the final construction plan for TransCanada’s Kibby Mountain Wind Power Project. The first such project approved in Franklin County, the Kibby wind farm will utilize 44 turbines to create up to 132 megawatts of power.

LURC spent two hours reviewing the various reports, staff findings and public testimony which had been submitted to the commission since TransCanada filed a rezoning request and development permit request in Jan 8, 2007. TransCanada, a Canadian-based energy company which does business throughout North America, already generates some 450 MW of wind power from facilities it co-owns in Quebec.

The Kibby project calls for the 44 turbines to be constructed on top of the southern edge of Kibby Mountain and on the nearby Kibby Range. Some 17.4 miles of new road will be constructed to provide access to the site, along with collector lines and some small maintenance and operation facilities. A 115 kV transmission line would also be erected, running from the site for 27 miles, going through Eustis and into Carrabassett Valley before connecting into the Bigelow substation. The entire project is estimated to cost between $250 million to $300 million to complete.

The Kibby Mountain range will be the site of 44 turbines now that LURC has given final approval for the project.

TransCanada was able to avoid the fate of Endless Energy Corporation’s Black Nubble project, which failed repeatedly to gain the support of LURC, due to a site selection and environmental impact study that was applauded by the committee at a January 14, 2008 meeting. Commissioners who had voted earlier in that meeting to not approve the Black Nubble project, spoke up in favor of the Kibby project.

“This company has really set the standard,” Commission Member Rebecca Kurtz said. “They clearly have done their work, and because of that I am more comfortable with [the proposal].”

Perhaps the biggest aspect of the site which appealed to LURC is the location. The Kibby Mountain and range are lower in elevation than the Black Nubble site, and further away from especially sensitive areas, such as the Appalachian Trail. 

There is also an acute appreciation for the environmental sensitivity of the region, with TransCanada hiring specialists from TRC, a company that provides engineering and environmental consulting services.

Commission Member Gwen Hilton, who also voted against the earlier project, felt far more comfortable in the location.

“It doesn’t rise to the same level of ‘uniqueness,’ for lack of a better word, as the other area,” Hilton said at the Janurary 14 meeting. “I think the wind farm, and it is bigger than the last project, fits better into the landscape here.”

At today’s meeting, the committee did raise questions about a recently approved TIF agreement between TransCanada and Franklin County. That TIF will capture 75 percent of the taxes raised by the project for the first 10 years of operation, then 50 percent for the 10 years after that. Sixty percent of those captured revenues, capped at $8.9 million over the 20 years, would go to the project’s TransCanada. The other 40 percent of captured revenues, capped at $4 million, would be used to fund a series of Franklin County investments in the Unorganized Territories. 

Committee members questioned how the TIF, which TransCanada representatives argued was necessary to make the project more financially viable, squared with the financial capacity reports submitted to LURC. In 2007, TransCanada repeatedly pointed to the economic benefit to the region as being a reason the project should go forward. TransCanada Project Manager Nick Di domenico noted that, in the last year and half, “the internal rate of return has suffered,” making a TIF more important. He also said that the TIF fell in line with the company’s desire to help the local economy, as it provided the $4 million for economic improvements and investments.

He also reported that the TransCanada’s executive board had approved the project, and that the company had every intention of moving forward with it. At a Franklin County commissioner meeting held on March 25, Di domenico said that the project was “sitting on a financial bubble” and that a TIF would help, but not guarantee, executive board approval.

“The board has approved the project and the turbines have been ordered,” Di domenico said today.

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