A $2.5 million fund directed at conservation projects across western, central and northern Maine has been set up after an anti-wind group earlier this year dropped a lawsuit against the company building a wind farm in Bingham.
SunEdison, a renewable energy development company, and Friends of Maine’s Mountains announced details of the collaboration in a news release Friday morning.
The first $1.5 million of the fund will be directed to Maine conservation and environmental groups including the Trust for Public Land, Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Appalachian Trail Land Trust, Forest Society of Maine, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Mahoosuc Land Trust.
Projects are spread across the state, from the western mountains through the Moosehead and Hundred Mile Wilderness regions to Katahdin. A second round of awards from the conservation fund will be disbursed in 2017.
The fund was created as one part of an agreement between SunEdison and the Friends since the Bingham project got approval from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection last year. The anti-wind group later dropped its opposition to the project.
Additional terms of the agreement are that SunEdison will not use some sections of Maine for wind farms, that $250,000 will be dedicated to research for turbine bat deterrent technology and SunEdison will increase the decommissioning fund for the Bingham project by 50 percent.
In a telephone interview, Friends spokesman Chris O’Neil said the exclusion zone covers more than half of the state, including a 15-mile buffer on either side of the Appalachian Trail and around Baxter State Park.
“It sends a powerful message to any other wind developer that comes to Maine,” O’Neil said, adding that while this contractual agreement is only between the Friends and SunEdison, his organization is seeking to embed such restrictions in state law to preserve Maine’s scenic mountain vistas.
Construction of the $420 million 56-turbine Bingham wind farm started in July and it is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. The project is expected to generate 185 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the equivalent of 60,000 homes.
According to the release, the Friends agreed to stop litigation against the wind farm in exchange for the provisions of the agreement.
“FMM is committed to preserving Maine’s unique natural resources, particularly its prized mountains,” Rand Stowell, founder and board chairman of Friends of Maine’s Mountains, said in the release. “Working with SunEdison on this agreement has allowed us to advance those efforts and fund important conservation projects in the state.”
According to the release, the Friends group is not a beneficiary of the conservation fund.
“We have deep roots in Maine, many of us live here and we value the state as a special place that is worthy of protection,” Kurt Adams, SunEdison’s senior vice president and chief development officer, said in the release. “With the creation of the fund, we are excited to be able to work together with Friends of Maine’s Mountains and a number of Maine conservation and environmental organizations to preserve the state’s open spaces so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.”