Orange — An international energy company has withdrawn its proposal to build 29 wind turbines across five Grafton County towns in the Mount Cardigan region.
The withdrawal of the project, known as Spruce Ridge Wind, marks a victory for environmental groups and wind-power opponents who felt the project threatened the aesthetic value and wildlife on the mountain, a popular hiking spot.
“You have to listen to the people,” said Lisa Linowes, executive director of the Industrial Wind Action Group. “And the people were saying, ‘Hey, we don’t want the ridgelines ripped up to put in all of these turbines.’ ”
The $140 million project from EDP Renewables, a North American subsidiary of the European energy company Energias de Portugal, would have erected 29 turbines, each 500 feet tall, across Canaan, Orange and Dorchester, as well as Alexandria and Groton.
Though EDP Renewables has not officially released a statement regarding the withdrawal of the Spruce Ridge proposal, Project Manager Jeffrey Nemeth confirmed that the proposal has been removed from ISO-New England’s Interconnection Request queue, where would-be power plants must file applications before they are approved to connect with the New England energy grid.
Lori Lerner, president of the Bristol-based New Hampshire Wind Watch, a nonprofit that has been closely monitoring Spruce Ridge, said she noticed EDP Renewables withdrew its proposal on April 17.
Nemeth said the proposal was removed from the queue because EDP Renewables had not progressed toward obtaining a permit from the state to proceed with Spruce Ridge, though he added that this did not mean EDP Renewables has abandoned the project.
“The project is still very much in existence, and we would definitely still like to move forward with it,” he said. “We are evaluating our options.”
But Linowes said she didn’t know what these options might be.
“Once you pull your name out of the spreadsheet, that’s it,” she said. “If you want to come back, you’re going to be starting from scratch.”
Nemeth said public opposition to Spruce Ridge was not a factor in withdrawing the proposal.
“We are aware that there were some individuals who felt they did not want us to continue with the project,” Nemeth said. “As for the reasons behind it, I think they are very subjective and depend on the individual.”
But voter opposition to the project was between 65 and 95 percent in all five towns where the turbines would have been built, Lerner said.
At 2015 Town Meetings, Orange voters expressed their overwhelming opposition to Spruce Ridge in a 117-7 vote. Dorchester voters expressed their opposition in a 36-3 vote. Canaan also voted in general opposition to the development of industrial wind turbine projects — though not to Spruce Ridge specifically — in a 413-225 vote last year.
Bob Proulx, secretary of the Orange Planning Board, said he “pretty much led the charge” in Orange against Spruce Ridge.
He said he was primarily concerned with the ecological impact of laying down roads to the base of each tower, as well as the “visual and noise pollution” from the turbines.
“If you climbed the summit of (Mount Cardigan), what you would see would be those 29 turbines — not those 360-degree vistas, which are why people climb it at all,” he said.
The potential impact that Spruce Ridge posed to wildlife was a primary concern for voters, said Lori Lerner, president of the Bristol-based nonprofit New Hampshire Wind Watch.
“Bats, which are notoriously attracted to wind turbines, don’t even have to hit one to be killed by it,” she said. “If they fly close enough, their lungs will explode from the air pressure.”
And wind turbines in North America kill hundreds of thousands of birds each year in North America, despite technological advancements aimed at reducing bird deaths, according to Audubon magazine.
“The destruction of the environment to put up these turbines would have resulted in blasting ridges off of the mountaintops, in fragmentation of wildlife — all really disturbing stuff, on many levels,” Lerner said, adding that she sees “no real benefit to the citizens of New Hampshire, just to the company.”
In addition to harboring environmental concerns, Lerner said residents living near the turbines would have had to deal with constant noise and “shadow flicker,” as well as the possibility of reduced property values as a result of the marred view.
Nemeth said those concerns were not founded, however.
“I’d be curious to see what they have to back these claims up,” he said, adding that the company has “never seen” an impact on property values after wind plants went up nearby.
Spruce Ridge has been the latest in a series of wind plant proposals in the Mount Cardigan area.
In 2014, the Spanish wind developer Iberdrola — which already owns a wind plant in Groton — held off on plans for another wind farm called Wild Meadows in Grafton, as well as Alexandria and Danbury. Before that, in 2013, a subsidiary of the German wind company Juwi abandoned a project called Alpine Ridge Wind Farm near Newfound Lake, Linowes said.
Lerner said she will continue to be vigilant about industrial wind plants in New Hampshire that may go up in the future.
“ ‘Big Wind’ has done a fantastic job of marketing itself as a green, environmentally friendly industry,” Lerner said. “But in New Hampshire, this has absolutely not been the case.”