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Wind farm deliberations to wrap up on April 29

Dr. Kent also said he believed it would be important for the state Fish and Game Department and scientists from the Appalachian Mountain Club to verify - ground-truth - the condition of the 1,700 acres that would be set aside as a mitigation package to compensate for habitat loss on Mt. Kelsey and Dixville Peak. "We need to know the details, what's really on the ground, to understand if it's "tit-for-tat" - that is, the same spruce-fir habitat that will be lost on those ridgelines," Dr. Kent said. "No evidence has been presented."

CONCORD - Concerns about inadequate baseline studies of bats, breeding and nesting birds, and migrating birds and raptors - which are all part of the natural environment - could keep any construction activities from taking place for another year on the 33 high-elevation sites on which Granite Reliable Power (GRP) proposes to erect 410-foot-high wind turbines in the Unincorporated Places of Millsfield and Dixville.

State Natural Heritage Bureau administrator Dr. Don Kent, a member of the seven-member Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), argued during Monday's deliberations in Concord that the preconstruction surveys done last year over a short period of time by an environmental consulting firm were inadequate. The data is insufficient, he explained, which means that any post-construction surveys will not be useful in assessing the impact that the turbines have on species of bats and birds, including the Bicknell's thrush, the three-toed woodpecker, and the purple finch - the state bird.

"As it is now, there is no basis on which to make a determination on the impact of the turbines," Dr. Kent explained. "Baseline data will allow us to... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

CONCORD - Concerns about inadequate baseline studies of bats, breeding and nesting birds, and migrating birds and raptors - which are all part of the natural environment - could keep any construction activities from taking place for another year on the 33 high-elevation sites on which Granite Reliable Power (GRP) proposes to erect 410-foot-high wind turbines in the Unincorporated Places of Millsfield and Dixville.

State Natural Heritage Bureau administrator Dr. Don Kent, a member of the seven-member Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), argued during Monday's deliberations in Concord that the preconstruction surveys done last year over a short period of time by an environmental consulting firm were inadequate. The data is insufficient, he explained, which means that any post-construction surveys will not be useful in assessing the impact that the turbines have on species of bats and birds, including the Bicknell's thrush, the three-toed woodpecker, and the purple finch - the state bird.

"As it is now, there is no basis on which to make a determination on the impact of the turbines," Dr. Kent explained. "Baseline data will allow us to understand the extent of the adverse impacts."

When asked by SEC member Mike Harrington of the state Public Utilities Commission whether this would mean that the project would have to "lay on the table" for another year, Dr. Kent replied that GRP could move forward to build the substation and lay-down yard in Dummer and that road construction activities could take place at lower elevations, assuming a Certificate of Site and Facility is issued. The bird and bat studies are only needed at the turbine sites, because it is there that tree clearing would be done to pour cement pads on which turbines would be erected with an enormous crane, brought up onto the ridgelines in pieces and then re-assembled.

SEC member Glenn Normandeau, executive director of the state Fish and Game Department, said that he didn't see a year as problem. He noted that the federal stimulus package incentives, which GRP has said would be important to its ability to get adequate financing for the $275 million project, would be available until December 2010.

Dr. Kent also said he believed it would be important for the state Fish and Game Department and scientists from the Appalachian Mountain Club to verify - ground-truth - the condition of the 1,700 acres that would be set aside as a mitigation package to compensate for habitat loss on Mt. Kelsey and Dixville Peak.

"We need to know the details, what's really on the ground, to understand if it's "tit-for-tat" - that is, the same spruce-fir habitat that will be lost on those ridgelines," Dr. Kent said. "No evidence has been presented."

He also scoffed at a condition that Public Counsel Peter Roth has proposed be attached to the Certificate that would prohibit tree-cutting or road construction above 2,500 feet on Mt. Kelsey, Owlhead, and/or Dixville Peak for four months - April 1 to August 1.

"Why monkey around worrying about a couple of nesting birds when we're removing their habitat," the exasperated scientist said.

The SEC spent most of two days - Friday, April 17, and Monday, April 20 - considering whether or not Granite Reliable Power (GRP) meets the criteria for the wind turbine project that would allow the Commission to grant a Certificate of Site and Facility, as a permit is known.

Under New Hampshire law, the burden is on the applicant to show by "a preponderance of evidence" that it meets several criteria: that it has adequate financial, technical, and managerial capability to assure construction and operation of the facility; that the facility will not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region; is consistent with the state's energy policy; and, finally, will not have an unreasonable adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment, and public health and safety.

All but the last three criteria on this list were considered without a great deal of discussion on Friday afternoon, and the SEC voted unanimously, 7 to 0, that GRP had met the required burden of proof in these areas.

It was quite a different story on Monday, however. All members of the SEC had questions, wanted to review pre-filed testimony or check what had been said by experts subject to cross-examination and/or wanted to make data requests.

Mr. Harrington, for example, sought a cause analysis of a turbine collapse in one of GRP's parent company's upstate New York wind parks. He also had a number of suggestions on improvements that could be made in posting warning signs near turbines, that were more stringent and comprehensive than those proposed by GRP, Public Counsel Roth, or the Coös County commissioners.

Chairman Tom Getz inquired as to what would be the effect of pulling the Dixville or Mt. Kelsey turbine strings out of the renewable energy project. Mr. Harrington replied that these turbines had by far the largest capacity factors because of greater wind availability, making them a very important part of the project's ability to make money.

Much of Monday's discussion centered on the conditions that have been proposed by various parties and interveners, all organized into categories by the SEC's own lawyer. No votes at all were taken.

SEC member Bob Scott of the Department of Environmental Services pointed out that many of the conditions that Public Counsel Roth has sought were already included in the state's 401 water quality certificate, wetlands permit, and alteration of terrain permit.

After all the conditions had been "walked through," as chairman Getz described the process, the deliberative session was recessed until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29.

Mr. Getz said he anticipated that a vote will likely take place on whether or not a Certificate of Site and Facility will be issued and, if the permit is approved, agreement will be sought on the conditions. The final order in which all the conditions will be spelled out in detail will very likely take additional days, however.

Unless the SEC decides it needs a second extension a decision must be reached on or before May 6.

Asked for her comments on Monday's session, intervener Lisa Linowes of the Industrial Wind Action Group replied, "It's been good to see the SEC conflicted over the environmental impacts, and members are clearly making an effort to understand what those impacts will be."

Richard Roach, senior project manager of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Division, said that it is impossible to tell how long it will take for the Corps or the federal Environmental Protection Agency to decide whether or not an Environmental Impact Statement will be required.


Source: http://www.record-enterpris...

APR 24 2009
https://www.windaction.org/posts/19983-wind-farm-deliberations-to-wrap-up-on-april-29
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