Wind power project TIF approved by state, seeks LURC approval

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AUGUSTA –The state agency which oversees the tax increment financing program approved an agreement between Franklin County and wind power developer TransCanada last week. With that program in place, TransCanada awaits only the final approval from the Land Use Regulation Commission, which meets this Wednesday.

That company wants to built a 44-turbine project on top of Kibby Mountain and the Kibby Range, utilizing an existing Bigelow substation.

The Department of Economic and Community Development, which governs the state’s TIF program, approved an agreement created by the county commissioners with the assistance of Eaton Peabody, a consultant firm that specializes in TIFs. A TIF is a program wherein some tax revenue of a new project is captured and used for economic development projects, or returned to the developer in the form of a credit enhancement agreement.

This TIF will capture 75 percent of the taxes raised by the estimated $270 million 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. Should the caps be reached, all remaining money garnered through the TIF will be released from the program to the state.

The agreement was met with some opposition at a public hearing conducted by the commissioners, but was ultimately approved by them. The commissioners act as the governing body for the Unorganized Territories. The DECD’s approval of the TIF marks the second such project benefiting from the program in the U.T., with the Stetson Mountain project in Washington County.

“Now, more than ever, Maine must reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels,” said DECD Commissioner John Richardson, in a prepared statement. “Maine has the highest wind power potential in New England and Kibby Wind Power will not only create new jobs for the region but the electricity generated will be clean, green power.”

TransCanada representatives had stated that the project had yet to gain the approval of the company’s board or directors.

“Since the project’s implementation two and a half years ago,” TransCanada Project Manager Nick Di domenico told commissioners at a March 25 meeting, “the cost of the equipment has increased dramatically. Financially, the project is sitting on the bubble.”

With that aspect settled, the company now merely waits for final development plan approval and water quality certification from LURC. It is widely believed, by both members of the public and LURC staff, that the seven member committee will approve both items when it meets this Wednesday in Orono. The project won unanimous support from the committee at earlier meetings when TransCanada sought rezoning requests.

At a meeting held on January 14, LURC members praised TransCanada’s work developing the project, as well as the evidence submitted on the applicant’s behalf. This was less than three hours after the commission directed the LURC staff to draft a recommendation rejecting a smaller wind power project on Black Nubble whose applicant, Maine Mountain Power, was accused of doing “sloppy work” in regards to environmental and scenic studies.

Commission Member Rebecca Kurtz, who voted against the Black Nubble project, applauded the work of TransCanada at that meeting.

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

LURC has cited the lower elevations, existing development, lack of endangered species and distance from “sensitive areas” such as the Appalachian Trail as all reasons for their support of the project. 

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