PORTLAND, Maine — Staff of the state’s environmental permitting appeals board have recommended upholding a permit for a proposed western Maine wind farm that would be Maine’s largest wind power project to date.

The Board of Environmental Protection, an appointed citizen oversight panel, will consider the Bingham Wind permit appeal at a March 5 meeting and hear oral arguments before taking up a draft order that would uphold the permit for the 62-turbine wind farm.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection gave a permit to the $398 million project in September. It is led by subsidiaries of the former First Wind, now part of solar energy giant SunEdison after a $2.4 billion sale that closed in January.

The anti-wind-power group Friends of Maine Mountains filed an appeal of the project permits to the BEP in October, arguing in part that the company did not have adequate financing to provide for the project’s decommissioning.

BEP staff wrote in the draft order that the company was right in its estimates of those costs and that its plan meets the requirement that project decommissioning be fully funded before construction begins.

Rand Stowell, a member of the board of directors for Friends of Maine Mountains, said in a prepared statement that he was not surprised by the decision.

“Even though it is a rare occurrence, we hope that the BEP will overturn the decision,” Stowell said. “But if they won’t overturn it, at the very least we would like to see some stricter conditions placed on the permit.”

He said the group will argue that there should be tougher requirements for decommissioning turbines.

Since the group started its appeals, the structure and finances of the company changed substantially.

Last year, the company’s joint venture with power utility Emera was in jeopardy, bouncing between state utility regulators and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court amid a challenge from the smaller utility, Houlton Water Co. Houlton Water raised concerns about the investment of the parent company of utility Emera Maine in power generation projects in the state.

Utilities were required to get rid of their generation capacity through the restructuring of Maine’s electricity markets in 2000.

As part of buying First Wind, SunEdison also bought out Emera’s stake in the joint venture, effectively putting a halt to state regulators consideration of that case.

Some of the same questions have emerged in a separate case, however, involving a wind project by a sister company of Central Maine Power Co., near Fletcher Mountain in Somerset County.

The Bingham project would have turbines located on property in Bingham, Abbot, Parkman, Mayfield Township and Kingsbury Plantation. It has reached agreements to make for 20 years annual payments of $106,900 to Bingham, $20,000 to Moscow, Abbot and Parkman, and $176,000 to Kingsbury Plantation.

Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.