Last summer, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (NHSEC) voted unanimously to permit construction of the highly controversial Granite Reliable Wind Energy facility, a $275 million, 99-megawatt project proposed by Noble Environmental Power. The project is to be sited along three peaks in the State's northern-most Coos County.
Windaction.org, a party to the proceedings, argued that the erection of thirty-three industrial-scale turbines and construction of over thirty miles of road with 50-foot ledge-cuts and the destruction of 13-acres of wetlands would have an unreasonable and permanent impact on New England's unique and increasingly rare High Elevation Spruce-Fir Forest habitat.
New Hampshire's Department of Fish and Game (NHF&G), the Counsel for the Public appointed by the NH Attorney General, New Hampshire Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all filed documents with the NHSEC asserting that the project, as proposed, would cause permanent and lasting harm to the environment. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also filed technical letters with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommending a full Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") be done in accordance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
According to testimony submitted to the NHSEC, the project bisected the remaining parcels of high elevation habitat in New Hampshire. These forested ridges supported several species of conservation concern in the State and region including the American Marten (state threatened), the Bicknell's Thrush (state special concern) and the Three-toed Woodpecker (state threatened). Turbine placement at elevations above 2700 feet would cause direct habitat loss as well as additional habitat degradation for these species. Regarding Bicknell's Thrush, New Hampshire Audubon argued that the high-elevation spruce-fir forests of northeastern North America provided the only breeding habitat available to this forest-interior species.
Bicknell's Thrush have the smallest breeding range of any North American bird with forty-five percent of the potential habitat located in New Hampshire. NHF&G informed the State that the proposed level of impact on Bicknell's Thrush habitat was incompatible with the long-term health and viability of the species and that given the extremely limited global distribution of this bird, the State could not afford to take any chances with this extremely rare bird species.
During its public deliberations on environmental impacts, one Committee member admitted "Clearly, what we have is a void here. None of us know what the impacts [on the natural environment] are going to be, except for the direct impact of losing forest." Despite this 'void' the NHSEC found the project would not have an unreasonable adverse effect on the environment and voted to approve it.
State insiders tell Windaction.org that the approval of Noble's application makes one fact clear: when it comes to wind energy in New Hampshire, no adverse impact will reach the level of being 'unreasonable'.
This week, Vermont utility regulators approved wind power contracts for the state's two largest electric utilities to purchase energy from Noble's wind project. In so doing, the stain of this project will now spread to Vermont ratepayers.