The state’s energy siting board has put off deciding whether to take jurisdiction over the proposal to build a small wind farm in the town of Antrim.
But for Portsmouth-based developer Eolian Renewable Energy, what’s a few more weeks when you’ve been trying to build a wind farm for seven years?
The latest question before the state hinges on whether proposed changes designed to lessen the visual impact of the project are different enough to constitute a new project.
It might seem like Jack Kenworthy is a glutton for punishment.
The state’s Site Evaluation Committee first rejected his company’s proposal more than two years ago because the turbines were “too tall and imposing in the context of the setting” and would “overwhelm the landscape.” Since then his team has been reworking a the 10-turbine wind farm, to deal with those concerns.
“For those aesthetic concerns, there was a bit of a road-map that was set out for us, as to the things that we could do that would address those concerns, and we think we’ve done that,” he says.
Kenworthy believes in that decision, two turbines in particular were of concern. They eliminated one, shortened another by 45 feet, and changed the make and model of the rest of them.
Those changes are do little to convince the hardcore opponents, like like Richard Block, who says he’s the only one in town who has been working on the wind farm question as long as Kenworthy.
“The entire north side of the project is essentially unchanged,” Block says, “They’ve lowered the turbines by 38 inches, which is not enough to make a difference.”
This gets right to the question the state is considering: is one fewer windmill enough for this to count as a new project?
Why Try Again?
Those turbines would be visible from a number of spots in town, including the village center itself, and Gregg Lake, which has camps and homes along its shores.
But in particular, the project would be seen from Willard Pond, a wildlife sanctuary where Pat and Kathy Grady, of Peterborough, are pumping up an inflatable kayak to go out and see some nesting loons. They say they come here precisely because it’s pristine.
“You don’t have the build-up on the lake, it’s all hiking trails. This is a very, very special place, it’s just unique,” explains Pat Grady.
But it’s also a hard site for Eolian to let go of. There’s a major state road that it says could handle the construction traffic, and a nearby transmission line that could handle the energy. And maybe the company keeps coming back because it has something that’s even rarer for wind developers: support of some local elected officials.
“I worked on oil rigs when I was in my early twenties,” says Gordon Webber the chair of the board of selectmen, and a wind proponent, “I’ve seen out in Wyoming, Kentucky, Tennessee, open pit coal mines, mountain top clearing.”
He exhales for emphasis, before adding, “That’s pretty awful stuff.”
Nine turbines are now proposed for his town, which is nowhere near as big as some in the state; New Hampshire’s largest project, Granite Reliable in Dixville and Millsfield has 33 turbines. In fact, this project is small enough that by law it’s up to Antrim to decide if it should be built.
Any energy facility smaller than 30 megawatts doesn’t need to go to the state board. The only wind farm currently under construction in New Hampshire is a five windmill project in Berlin, which avoided the state siting process entirely.
But the developer and local supporters don’t want the town to make the decision.
“Can we actually regulate a large-scale wind project in Antrim? Yes. Sure. How do you we do it?” asks Webber, “We don’t have an ordinance that sets parameters for a large-scale wind farm.”
Several attempts to pass such ordinances were nixed by local voters. So it would be complicated for the town, and it might also be impossible for the developer.
Unlike the state’s committee, which rolls all of the project’s permits into one big process, going through the town would mean asking for variances, getting wetlands, and alteration of terrain permits… and each step could be appealed through the courts individually.
And while some town officials like the project, there’s no lack of critics in Antrim.
“This is not a good site,” says Katharine Sullivan, who lives very close to Willard Pond, and whose grandmother gave the land to the Audubon society that started the sanctuary. “I’m not against wind entirely but I’m against it in locations where it doesn’t make sense. It really doesn’t make sense here.”
The critics think they have a much better chance of killing the project if control stays local.
“If the town takes jurisdiction, then it’s a zoning issue. This is zoned rural conservation, so they can’t do it here,” says Sullivan.
This is why Eolian wants the state to hear the proceeding.
A Few More Weeks’ Delay
Regulators decided Tuesday to put that decision off until late July. Only after that is when the state or the town will begin ask the big question, is New Hampshire still willing to build wind farms of this size? For instance, there’s still theoretically a big project on the horizon for the Newfound Lake Area.
“We don’t think the proposals come much better than this,” says Eolian’s Jack Kenworthy.
He thinks if a wind farm can’t get through in a town where pro-wind officials get elected to local office, it’s an open question whether they get built anywhere.
“It will send a pretty clear signal that New Hampshire does not want to see additional wind projects in the state,” he concludes.
Which is why everyone who’s both for and against large-scale wind farms in New Hampshire, will likely be watching this one closely, come late July.