OAKFIELD, Maine — Boston-based wind power developer First Wind announced Thursday morning that it has closed a $369 million financing deal for its 148-megawatt Oakfield Wind project.
The financing deal is the first announced since the Maine Supreme Judicial Court invalidated a partnership between First Wind and Emera, sending a case considering that partnership back to the Maine Public Utilities Commission.
The court’s March decision also prompted scrutiny from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which requested new financial assurances from the developer for four projects, including the Oakfield wind farm.
The DEP had set a 60-day deadline for the company to file new documents demonstrating it would have sufficient funds to construct, maintain and decommission the projects that previously were dependent in part on financing through Emera.
“When the decision was rendered by the Law Court, we weren’t able to obtain funds from Emera, so we went to different sources and we obtained financing to move ahead with the project regardless,” said First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne.
Jessamine Logan, spokeswoman for the DEP, said Thursday morning the department is awaiting First Wind’s updated financial capacity documents.
Lamontagne said the company is hopeful that its joint venture can still advance in some form after renewed consideration by the PUC.
Harry Lanphear, spokesman for the PUC, said Thursday that the commission’s staff held a technical conference about that case Thursday. The meeting considered a filing by Houlton Water Co., a municipally owned electric and water utility, arguing that any reorganization connected to the $360 million deal between Emera and First Wind subsidiary NE Wind Partners should be halted immediately. Emera countered in its filing that Houlton Water’s request is an “unnecessary distraction from the speedy resolution of the Law Court’s mandate.”
For the latest round of financing, Lamontagne said the company’s long-term power purchasing agreement with four Massachusetts utilities approved in September played a part in attracting the new investors.
Dale Morris, Oakfield’s town manager, said in a phone interview Thursday that he was pleased by the announcement. He said the project stands to “revitalize the town’s infrastructure” through tax payments the company will make.
“This project will change the town forever,” said Morris, who expects it will generate $27 million over 20 years to fund projects such as a new fire station, roughly 20 miles of road reconstruction and other improvements.
The company said it expects to employ approximately 300 people through the course of construction. It is planned to generate power sufficient for an estimated 50,000 homes.
The project does have critics in the town who own land near the project, and Morris said he plans to speak with them personally about their concerns as the project moves ahead toward completion by the end of 2015.
In October, Protect Our Lakes and the Forest Ecology Network filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior, arguing they violated federal law and international treaties protecting wildlife, including bald eagles and salmon, by approving the project. The First Wind subsidiaries building the project received permission in April to intervene in that lawsuit, which has not yet been resolved.
The deal that closed late Wednesday night includes a $236 million construction loan arranged through KeyBank and $133 million in equity contribution.