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Turbines, protected species intersect; Plans for wind farm face a legal dilemma

Granite Reliable Power's plan to erect 33 wind turbines on peaks in Coos County might be good for Gov. John Lynch and his goal of making 25 percent of the state's energy renewable by 2025. It would not be so good, according to Fish and Game officials, for the American marten or the three-toed woodpecker, threatened species that depend on the high-altitude forests that the project would disrupt.

Granite Reliable Power's plan to erect 33 wind turbines on peaks in Coos County might be good for Gov. John Lynch and his goal of making 25 percent of the state's energy renewable by 2025. It would not be so good, according to Fish and Game officials, for the American marten or the three-toed woodpecker, threatened species that depend on the high-altitude forests that the project would disrupt.

The project is raising questions about how to balance those interests. The state Site Evaluation Committee, charged with approving the $247 million project, is taking testimony and could make a decision in March.

Under one law, new energy facilities must prove they will have no "unreasonable adverse effect" on the environment. But the state's endangered species law includes a Seabrook Station-era exemption for energy facilities, saying the law "shall not interfere in any way with the siting or construction."

Doug Patch, an attorney with Orr & Reno representing Granite Reliable Power, said he sees the conflicting laws as a problem, but he hopes to avoid addressing it with the committee. He and others have been meeting regularly with officials from Fish... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Granite Reliable Power's plan to erect 33 wind turbines on peaks in Coos County might be good for Gov. John Lynch and his goal of making 25 percent of the state's energy renewable by 2025. It would not be so good, according to Fish and Game officials, for the American marten or the three-toed woodpecker, threatened species that depend on the high-altitude forests that the project would disrupt.

The project is raising questions about how to balance those interests. The state Site Evaluation Committee, charged with approving the $247 million project, is taking testimony and could make a decision in March.

Under one law, new energy facilities must prove they will have no "unreasonable adverse effect" on the environment. But the state's endangered species law includes a Seabrook Station-era exemption for energy facilities, saying the law "shall not interfere in any way with the siting or construction."

Doug Patch, an attorney with Orr & Reno representing Granite Reliable Power, said he sees the conflicting laws as a problem, but he hopes to avoid addressing it with the committee. He and others have been meeting regularly with officials from Fish and Game to negotiate a mitigation plan to protect other important habitats and offset the project's impact.

"Whether or not the committee ultimately has to make a decision about those statutes will depend on whether we can resolve issues with the interveners," Patch said.

The wind farm would put turbines in the unincorporated areas of Dixville and Millsfield and require the clearing of some critical high-elevation spruce and fir forest, according to written testimony from Fish and Game. In addition to the woodpecker and marten species, the forest provides habitat for the threatened Canada lynx.

By Granite Reliable's analysis, the project disrupts about 58 acres of high-elevation habitat. By Fish and Game's, it disrupts 3,747 acres - the total included in the project - because unfragmented land would be bisected by the project.

The marten, a member of the weasel family sometimes called pine marten, needs large stretches of unfragmented forest, according to Fish and Game's report.

"This would likely create a hole in the heart of primary marten habitat in (New Hampshire)," it said.

The wind farm would be the state's largest if approved. Until pulling out of the planning process last month, Granite Reliable's parent company, Noble Environmental Power, had been looking to build a second wind farm that was half as big. Several other companies are looking to put up test towers in the North Country.

The conflicting laws point to some of the challenges that such wind farms could pose for the state. Most other forms of generation are built near population centers, near the demand and where they are less likely to disrupt critical habitat.

"Wind (generation) is different," said Evan Mulholland, assistant attorney general and Fish and Game counsel. "You have to build it where the wind is."

The exemption in the endangered-species law took effect in 1979, three years after the construction permit for Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant was granted. At that time, attorney Bob Backus represented the Audubon Society of New Hampshire and argued that state and federal officials should consider the project's impact on the endangered piping plover and its nesting areas on the coast.

Those arguments didn't receive as much attention as whether the plant had an adequate evacuation plan should there be a meltdown, although they were part of the debate, Backus said. He said the plant's leading opposition group, the Clamshell Alliance, drew its name from concerns over the larvae of clams and other creatures that could be sucked into the plant's cooling system.

Peter Roth, a senior assistant attorney general representing the public before the evaluation committee, said the evaluation of most energy generators addresses "human habitat kind of problems."

"The wind farms are unique," he said. "They present special problems."

The Appalachian Mountain Club has been working in recent years to persuade states to consider the issues that wind power raises. The club has expressed support for about half of the Granite Reliable project but does not support the construction of 15 turbines proposed for Mount Kelsey and Dixville Peak, areas that contain old-growth and high-quality habitats for vulnerable species.

Senior staff scientist Dave Publicover said all development has environmental effects.

"There's no free lunch," he said. "The question is, how do you balance the need for renewable energy with the need to protect and conserve significant features of the natural environment?"

Mulholland said the endangered-species exemption won't likely affect Fish and Game's ability to argue its case. He said the law is clear in stating that the evaluation committee must consider environmental impact, and the department's concerns go beyond endangered species.

The Fish and Game testimony also highlights Bicknell's thrush. Nearly half of all the habitat in the world that can support the songbird exists in New Hampshire. The state has "a global responsibility for this species," the report said.

No matter what the law says, Granite Reliable general manager Pip Decker said the company is working with Fish and Game.

"We will put together a responsible mitigation project that will meet their needs," he said.


Source: http://www.concordmonitor.c...

FEB 5 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/18913-turbines-protected-species-intersect-plans-for-wind-farm-face-a-legal-dilemma
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