PORTLAND, Maine — The group Friends of Maine Mountains has withdrawn its challenge to a permit for a 56-turbine SunEdison wind power project, clearing the way for the western Maine development to move ahead.
The group notified the Board of Environmental Protection of the withdrawal late Wednesday afternoon, in advance of an appeals hearing the citizen-oversight board had scheduled for Thursday.
Cindy Bertocci, an analyst with the BEP, said in an email that the issue was removed from the board’s agenda and “withdrawal of the appeal means that the [Department of Environmental Protection] commissioner’s decision approving the Bingham Wind project stands.”
John Lamontagne, a spokesman for SunEdison, said the company hopes to start construction as soon as possible.
“We’re pleased we’re able to move forward with the Bingham project,” Lamontagne said.
Of the $398 million project cost, Lamontagne said SunEdison plans to spend $145 million in Maine. In an industry study completed in December, the company said it plans to complete the project by 2016.
Chris O’Neil, policy director for Friends of Maine Mountains, wrote in an email that the group had “dim prospects” for overturning a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Protection through appeals to the BEP or court system.
“We want to make sure that if the project goes forward, its impacts are minimized and some positive results are secured,” O’Neil wrote. “Friends of Maine Mountains will work outside the appeal process to advance those long-term objectives. We are not able to comment further at this time.”
The statement is a change of tone for the group. When the DEP issued a draft report to approve the Bingham project in August, O’Neil said he did not expect appeals to stop such projects.
“If we can slow them down, we consider that victory,” O’Neil said at the time.
The group recently settled a complaint with Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, agreeing to reorganize its board of directors or disband, in response to allegations of conflicts of interest related to a legal settlement over the Saddleback Ridge Wind project.
O’Neil said last week that the group contests some of the attorney general’s allegations. Friends of Maine Mountains did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement.
The group has been a persistent opponent of large-scale wind projects statewide, appealing and contesting projects at the local and state levels before regulatory bodies and in court.
The Bingham project is owned by Blue Sky West and Blue Sky West II, both former subsidiaries of wind power developer First Wind. SunEdison closed its $2.4 billion purchase of the Massachusetts-based First Wind in January, adding wind developments to its portfolio of solar power projects around the country.
The 185-megawatt 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.