ANTRIM — A controversial wind turbine project is again on hold after opponents filed motions asking a state committee to rehear and reconsider its approval of the facility last year.
The main argument in the three motions, each filed during the past month and a half, is that the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee broke its own rules to approve the nine-turbine installation.
The groups behind the motions include property owners with land abutting and not abutting the project, the Stoddard Conservation Commission, The Windaction Group, five meteorologists and the N.H. attorney general, which served as counsel for the public during the proceedings last year.
In this capacity, the Attorney General’s Office represents the public in N.H. Site Evaluation Committee proceedings by making sure the environment is protected and that there is adequate energy supply, according to state law.
The committee approved the project, which is being proposed by Antrim Wind Energy LLC, 5-1, in December 2016, following three days of deliberations in Concord.
The turbines would be along Tuttle Hill and the Willard Mountain ridge line off Route 9 and generate a total of 28.8 megawatts of electricity, which would power 12,000 homes, according to the project’s application.
Construction costs have been estimated to be $63 million to $65 million.
While the project has been viewed by many as a way to benefit the local economy and increase renewable energy resources in New Hampshire, it has received push back from area residents, anti-wind power organizations, conservation groups and some towns’ boards. Their concerns include the potentially negative effects the project could have on property values, public health and safety, the environment and wildlife.
In saying that the committee didn’t follow its own rules, the motions argue the committee acted unreasonably and unlawfully by finding that the turbines wouldn’t have an unreasonable negative effect on the region’s aesthetics and deciding that the decommissioning plan submitted by the developer for the site was acceptable.
In addition, the committee’s decision to grant a waiver to Antrim Wind for certain health and safety requirements addressing sound, shadow flicker and setbacks affecting landowners was improper, the motions say.
Further, one of the seven committee members was absent during the proceedings, according to the motions. This person was one of the two public members who sat on the committee, the motion said.
Three months after approving the project, the committee issued a written order affirming the decision on March 17. This kicked off a 30-day period when those involved in the proceedings could file motions asking the committee to reconsider its decision.
The 225-page order includes a certificate of site and facility for the project with conditions, such as upholding memorandums of understanding with several state agencies, closing on conservation easements for 908 acres of conservation land, meeting several financial requirements, remaining in contact with Antrim town officials on various project matters, identifying drinking water wells within 2,000 feet of blasting activities and retaining a third-party noise expert.
The committee’s order also requires Antrim Wind to comply with an invasive species management plan, a bird and bat conservation strategy, protect wood turtles during construction, and “use all reasonable efforts to avoid, rather than demolish, any boulders.”
Meanwhile, Antrim Wind, which is owned by New York City-based Walden Green Energy, filed an updated plan and timeline for construction with the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee on April 17.
The company plans to start on-site construction of the wind turbines in October, with commercial operations expected to begin by Dec. 31, 2018, according to the document.
Before starting on-site construction, Antrim Wind plans to allow its contractor, Reed & Reed of Woolwich, Maine, to complete certain pre-construction activities beginning in June. Those activities include doing geotechnical reporting and analysis and finalizing engineering designs.
However, the schedule could change depending on the final resolution of the motions for rehearings or appeal, the document says.
In their motions for rehearing and reconsideration, opponents of the project revisit an argument that the application for what is called Antrim II should have never been allowed to go forward in the first place because the project is “substantially similar” to Antrim I.
In 2012, the committee denied the proposal for Antrim I, which called for 10 wind turbines producing a total of 30 megawatts of electricity.
A subcommittee of the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee ruled in July 2016 that a new version of the project, Antrim II, was different enough from the previous application to be considered a new project.
The project then went to the full committee for review.
The groups also argue that the committee made improper procedural and evidentiary rulings and factual errors in approving the project.
They further allege the proceedings were unfair and prejudiced toward the opponents because the proceedings established by the committee favored the applicant, according to the motions.
“The result of this procedural unfairness was a chilling effect on intervenor involvement and an inability to fully develop the factual record for this Subcommittee’s consideration,” the motion that included the abutters and non-abutters of the project said.
Antrim Wind filed an objection to the meteorologists’ motion for a rehearing on April 5. The objection was filed before the two other motions were submitted.
In the motion, Antrim Wind said that the five meteorologists didn’t identify how any finding made by the committee in its decision was unlawful or unreasonable. They also didn’t note any issue that was overlooked or mistakenly conceived by the committee, or identify any new evidence that was not available during the hearing, Antrim Wind argues.
Since the motions have been filed, the committee has issued an order suspending its decision to approve the project until a subcommittee can meet to discuss the motions.
That hearing has been scheduled for May 5 at the N.H. Public Utilities Commission’s office in Concord