ELLSWORTH, Maine — Hancock County commissioners voted Friday to approve financial agreements with a First Wind subsidiary expected to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the county.
By 2-1 votes, the commission approved the creation of a tax increment financing district, a resulting property tax payment agreement and a separate community benefit agreement connected with a planned commercial wind farm in townships 16 and 22 in eastern Hancock County. In each vote, Commissioner Antonio Blasi opposed the approval while commissioners Steve Joy and Percy “Joe” Brown voted in favor of it.
The turbine project, which the Maine Department of Environmental Protection approved in July 2013, will result in the installation of 17 total turbines, each with a 3-megawatt capacity, on Spectacle Pond and Schoppe ridges in Township 22 and east of Bull Hill Ridge to the immediate south in Township 16. The turbines are expected to be about 500 feet tall, from the ground to the highest tip of each upraised blade.
The project is expected to generate $11 million in property tax revenue for Hancock County over the 30-year term of the agreement — $5.82 million of which will end up in county coffers, and Hancock Wind will keep roughly $5.12 million. The wind developer will retain 70 percent of its annual tax payments to the county for 20 years, with the county getting the remaining 30 percent. But for each of the final 10 years of the agreement, the county would keep 100 percent of the project tax revenue.
The purpose of splitting the TIF funds, according to the agreement, is to help “make the project more attractive to investors” and to “ensure the economic viability of the project,” which is expected to have “substantial” siting and engineering costs. First Wind has said the more than $110 million project is expected to generate temporary employment for 100 construction workers and, once the project in complete, between three and six full-time jobs for on-site technicians and managers.
The county will dedicate all tax revenues it keeps toward certain projects in the county’s unorganized territories that are included within the TIF district. Of the 956 acres covered by the TIF district, 837 acres are located along the eastern side of Route 179 in Fletcher’s Landing Township, about five miles from central Ellsworth.
Potential projects in the TIF district that could be funded with TIF money include acquisition and development of land in Fletcher’s Landing; promotion of recreational opportunities and environmental protection; and improvement of roads, communications and fire protection. Projects that support or promote educational opportunities and economic development in the district also could be supported with TIF funds.
Commissioners also approved a separate community benefit agreement with Hancock Wind that is expected to generate nearly $200,000 in additional revenue for the county each year for 20 years. When including an extra $100,000 expected to be used toward the purchase of a fire truck for the turbine development area, the community benefit payments will add up to a total of nearly $4.1 million over 20 years. These funds, separate from those generated by the turbine project’s tax revenue, can be dedicated by county commissioners toward public projects in or outside the designated TIF district.
The Hancock Wind project, though permitted separately, essentially is an extension of First Wind’s Bull Hill Wind project, which was constructed in Township 16 in 2012. The county already has separate TIF and community benefit agreements with First Wind associated with the Bull Hill project.