ANTRIM — For the first time under its new rules, a state committee could decide as early as next month whether to approve a controversial wind farm planned in Antrim.
The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, which is in charge of approving energy projects and their siting and facilities, has been vetting the proposal since March. Walden Green Energy, which has offices in Portsmouth and New York City, is seeking to build nine wind turbines generating a total of 28.8 megawatts of electricity on the Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain ridge line off Route 9.
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This is the second time the Antrim Wind project has come before the site evaluation committee for approval.
The committee denied an earlier version of the project, which called for 10 turbines producing a total of 30 megawatts of electricity, in 2012.
In July, the subcommittee of the site evaluation committee voted, 5-2, that the new version of the project was different enough from the previous application to be considered a new project. The vote cleared the way for the committee to review the latest proposal.
Town versus town
Antrim selectmen and many residents support the proposed wind farm, primarily because of the likelihood that the town would see economic benefits from it, including a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement.
The wind turbines would provide “significant clean energy and fuel diversity benefits to the state, which can stabilize volatile energy costs resulting from over-dependence on fossil fuels,” according to the project’s website.
Opponents of the project say the ridge line isn’t the right location for it, the turbines would negatively affect the region’s aesthetics and wildlife habitats, and the project isn’t economically viable.
The Stoddard Conservation Commission, with the support of its town’s selectmen, has spoken publicly against the project. Commission Chairman Geoffrey T. Jones told The Sentinel in August that the wind turbines would be in an area that is part of a large, unfragmented block of forest that has received the highest habitat ranking from N.H. Fish and Game. The turbines would also abut the Robb Reservoir, a wildlife sanctuary, in Stoddard.
Selectmen said in an August letter to the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee that the project would have a “significant visual impact to large portions of our community,” and would not provide any benefits, financial or otherwise, to the town.
Antrim Wind officials filed an application with the site evaluation committee in October 2015 seeking approval for the project, which its officials say will provide power to about 12,300 New Hampshire homes.
Under new rules
The application is the first wind energy project to be reviewed under the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee’s new rules, which were adopted in December 2015. The new rules address issues including abutter notification, site control, aesthetics and visual impact, shadow flicker and decommissioning. They also strengthen the standards for sound modeling.
The committee has finished the public hearing process of the proceedings, and is scheduled to begin deliberations about the proposal on Dec. 7, Administrator Pamela G. Monroe said Tuesday.
Deliberations are also scheduled for Dec. 9 and 12, if needed, she said.
Committee members will deliberate in public next month, Monroe said, and if they decide to sign off on the project, it will be finalized in an order giving Antrim Wind the green light.
Public comment isn’t taken during the deliberations, she said.
A pending motion
The timeline for deliberations could change because a decision has yet to be made on a pending motion, she said.
Assistant Attorney General Mary E. Maloney, who has served as counsel for the public in the proceedings, filed the motion on Nov. 14 asking the site evaluation committee to reconsider its ruling on evidence presented during the proceedings. She also requested the committee reopen the hearing so that an expert witness for the public can respond to rebuttal testimony from an Antrim Wind Energy expert.
The counsel for the public represents the public in N.H. Site Evaluation Committee proceedings by making sure the environment is protected and that there is an adequate energy supply, according to state law.
Maloney wrote that parties involved in the proceedings had until Aug. 18 to file supplemental pre-filed testimony. On that date, Antrim Wind Energy filed testimony from several witnesses including its visual impact expert, David Raphael, Maloney wrote.
Raphael’s testimony included rebuttals to the testimonies of the public’s visual impact expert, the N.H. Audubon Society’s visual impact expert and intervenor Richard Block of Antrim, Maloney wrote.
The deadline prevented the experts and intervenor from responding to the rebuttal testimony before the beginning of hearings on Sept. 12, she said. Further, the public’s expert wasn’t given an opportunity during the hearings to rebut Raphael’s testimony, Maloney wrote.
Attorney Rebecca S. Walkley of Concord filed an objection to the motion on behalf of Antrim Wind Energy on Nov. 21, saying various actions, including past committee practice, don’t support reopening the hearing for the public’s expert to respond to testimony.
“(T)he rules are structured to provide the applicant with the opportunity to meet its burden of proof and respond to all opposing arguments,” Walkley wrote.
A order on Maloney’s motion will be issued before deliberations start, Monroe said.
Antrim Wind officials have picked a tentative date of December 2017 to start operating the wind farm, according to the project application. The cost of the project was estimated in the application to be from $63 million to $65 million.