CONCORD — The debate over a controversial wind turbine project proposed for Antrim could be headed to the N.H. Supreme Court.
But in the meantime, the developer of the project and its proponents are celebrating a victory after a state committee decided it won’t reconsider its earlier approval of the plan.
The subcommittee of the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee unanimously voted Friday to deny three separate motions requesting it rehear and reconsider its December 2016 decision on the Antrim Wind project, according to the project’s developer.
The subcommittee has the same powers as the committee, but different membership.
As a result of its vote Friday, the subcommittee also immediately lifted the suspension it placed on the project when the motions were filed, said Jack B. Kenworthy, head of development for Walden Green Energy.
The New York City-based company owns Antrim Wind.
“We agree with the subcommittee’s decisions today and we are looking forward to continuing our progress to commence construction later this year as planned,” Kenworthy said in an emailed statement.
Antrim Wind Energy LLC plans to install nine turbines along Tuttle Hill and the Willard Mountain ridge line off Route 9 to generate a total of 28.8 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough electricity to power 12,000 homes, according to the project’s applications, which says construction costs are estimated to be $63 million to $65 million.
Energy produced by the turbines will go to the N.H. Electric Cooperative, which signed a 20-year agreement last year to purchase 25 percent of the electricity generated.
The remaining 75 percent was purchased by Boston-based Partners HealthCare of Boston.
While supporters view the project 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.
The groups behind the motions for rehearing 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’s Office, which serves as counsel for the public during the proceedings.
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 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 project.
Antrim resident Richard Block, an opponent of the project, said Friday’s decision by the subcommittee wasn’t a total surprise.
“In order for them to have decided to rehear, they would have had to admit all the wrong things they did, which I knew they weren’t about to do,” he said.
Block’s name was included in the list of non-abutting landowners who were part of a group that filed one of the motions.
The next step for the group is to wait until the subcommittee issues its decision, formally, in writing, he said, noting he he has no idea how long that will take.
“After that comes through, we can see exactly how they’re wording it and all that. If we decide to go on, it goes to the (N.H.) Supreme Court. If we decide to do that we are, and have been, prepared all along to go through with that,” he said.
Stoddard resident Fred Ward, listed as one of the five meteorologists involved in one of the motions, said 20 to 30 people attended Friday’s hearing in Concord, and it lasted just shy of two hours.
The most common reasons subcommittee members gave for not reconsidering their decision, he said in an email, included that there was nothing much to gain by redoing the vote, nothing was overlooked and everything was considered.
A message left for the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee Friday afternoon wasn’t returned by press time.
Ward said he and the other meteorologists can’t do anything to appeal the subcommittee’s decision until the written order comes out. Once that happens, they’ll have 30 days to decide if they want to appeal to the N.H. Supreme Court.
He noted that there is a lot riding on the outcome of the Antrim Wind project. Many people in the state and elsewhere believe it’s going to be the defining case for the siting of wind energy facilities, he said.
“That’s why so much time and effort is being put into it,” he said. “The general feeling is if Antrim Wind loses the case, it will be the end of industrial wind facilities in New Hampshire, or at least in populated areas,” he said.
Antrim Wind plans to start on-site construction of its wind turbines in October, with commercial operations expected to begin by Dec. 31, 2018, according to an updated plan and timeline for construction filed with the Site Evaluation Committee last month.
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 include 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.