New wind project owner arrives amid fight over proposed site in Moosehead region

NRG Energy, a large power company headquartered in Texas and New Jersey, is set to acquire the assets of SunEdison’s solar and wind projects in several states, including a wind proposal in Maine that has attracted strong opposition.

But whether the Maine wind farm, called Somerset Wind, actually gets built any time soon depends in part on the outcome of a selection process for renewable energy proposals being conducted jointly by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The three states are collaborating to identify renewable energy projects that will allow them to meet their clean energy goals.

These projects are in various stages of development. In Maine, Somerset Wind is a 26-turbine proposal near Moosehead Lake that’s rated at 85 megawatts. It has no permits, but according to SunEdison’s submission in the New England Clean Energy RFP, it’s “one of the most attractive sites in the Northeast for its combination of scale and quality of wind resource.”

The Somerset Wind project would be built on forestland ridges in three townships: Johnson Mountain, Chase Stream and Misery.

An email sent Wednesday to a spokesman for NRG seeking comment wasn’t immediately returned. But Richard McDonald, president of the anti-wind citizen group Saving Maine, said NRG’s acquisition was expected.

“Obviously, we’ve been waiting quite a while for the other shoe to drop with SunEdison,” he said.

McDonald also is a board member of the Moosehead Region Futures Committee. The group is opposed to Somerset Wind because it fears views of the turbines will discourage tourism in an area that’s trying to become a world-class recreation destination.

Somerset Wind is among 51 power proposals, including solar arrays and hydro dams, that are being evaluated by southern New England states as part of a giant clean-energy package that could total 600 megawatts, enough to power about 98,000 homes. Each project is vying for power-purchase agreements, which are considered crucial to attracting investors.

NRG’s pending acquisition would help write the latest chapter in the evolution of FirstWind, the former Boston-based company that until a few years ago was Maine’s dominant wind-power developer.

SunEdison and its power-plant holding company, TerraForm Power, bought FirstWind in 2014 for $2.4 billion as part of a massive expansion plan. But SunEdison took on too much debt buying companies and filed for bankruptcy in April. It began shedding assets to raise money.

Today, four of its projects – Mars Hill, Rollins, Bull Hill and Stetson – are owned by TerraForm. Two others, Oakfield and Bingham, were sold last year to an affiliate of J.P Morgan, the global financial services company.

In June, Pattern Energy Group of San Francisco took over the rights to King Pine, a 600-megawatt proposal in southern Aroostook County that would be the largest wind farm in New England, with 174 turbines.

But that project, too, is in the Clean Energy RFP and would need to be selected to win a power-purchase agreement.

“Unless these projects win overpriced, mandated government contracts, the market cannot support them,” said Chris O’Neil, a spokesman for Friends of Maine’s Mountains. “They’re taking a risk that they are purchasing a performing asset. It may or may not happen.”

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