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Maine projects dies but assetts bought, no extension on permit

Kenetech's proposed $200 million wind project in Maine is dead. The controversial plant, to consist of 639 turbines, was to have been the largest wind project in the United States east of the Mississippi (Windpower Monthly, September 1995). Last month, however, the remains of the project were bought by former Kenetech's long time rival, Zond Corporation, after state regulators just weeks before had refused to extend their approval of the wind plant.

It's official -- Kenetech's proposed $200 million wind project in Maine is dead. The controversial plant, to consist of 639 turbines, was to have been the largest wind project in the United States east of the Mississippi (Windpower Monthly, September 1995). Last month, however, the remains of the grandiose scheme were bought by former Kenetech's long time rival, Zond Corporation, after state regulators just weeks before had refused to extend their approval of the wind plant.

In a bidding battle for the assets, Zond beat Endless Energy at a court hearing on April 14. Both Endless Energy and Zond offered $825,000. But Zond's sale was approved after the Tehachapi-based company offered $137,000 up front, compared with Endless Energy's offer of $37,500 up front.

The state's Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC) on February 27 refused to extend the project's planning permission for another six months, effectively preventing revival of the plan. Among other factors, Kenetech was unable to prove to the commissioners that it had the financial ability to proceed with the project as originally agreed when planning permission was granted in August 1995.

Kenetech Windpower sought bankruptcy protection in US District Court in Oakland, California, in May 1996. It had also unsuccessfully attempted to sell the work it had done towards the Maine project to another developer. Since only one six month extension is allowed under state law, the project cannot be revived in its present form.

Accusations

Plans for the wind plant had in fact been dormant for some time. When zoning approval for the project was granted, 18 months before the commission's negative February decision, various conditions were required. Environmental regulators had approved the massive plant, but staff at LURC had concerns about potentially serious environmental impacts. Although the plans also had broad support from the state's environmental community, others opposed it for environmental reasons. And there were accusations of political meddling by top state officials to keep the 210 MW project on track (Windpower Monthly, September 1995).

As a condition of the preliminary approval in 1995, Kenetech was to study and recommend mitigation for soil erosion, provide information on power purchase contracts with utilities, and show how it might minimise road construction. It was also to release data on possible bird impacts. "None of the work had been done. The work was not on-going," says Cynthia Bertocci, manager for permitting at LURC.

"We would also have had to find that they had the financial and technical ability to do the projectÉ which they do not have," she continues. Bertocci notes, however, that even though the permit is gone, the information gathered by Kenetech could be built upon for a future wind plant.

Whether the state would welcome another wind proposal remains to be seen. Over the months and years, Kenetech has abandoned meteorological equipment on top of Caribou and Kibby Mountains, says Pamela Prodan, a lawyer who represents environmental groups that opposed the project. Indeed an article about the project's death in the Portland Press Herald newspaper was hardly complimentary. "A California company's plan to generate wind power in the western Maine mountains has been reduced to a heap of broken equipment," was the opening of the article.

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