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A small town's winds of change

The answer may not be blowing in the wind. Tuesday night Almont Village Council trustees joined a growing number of local officials eyeing regulations for wind turbines. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) reported last month that the U.S. wind industry built nearly 10,000 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity last year, enough to supply electricity to 2.4 million homes. The association predicts a 30-fold growth in wind turbine installations over the next five years.

A town 25 miles northwest of Antrim provides clues for what wind farm could mean

LEMPSTER — Wind can be as pleasant as a breeze or as destructive as a hurricane, but it will never stop blowing.

An intense debate over wind energy in Antrim has at times made it seem as though the political winds may also never stop swirling. But the fact remains, Antrim may indeed find itself as one of the first towns in the state with a wind farm that contributes to the energy supply.

Eolian Renewable Energy has proposed the installation of up to 10 wind turbines between Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain that will produce between 18.5 and 23 megawatts of power apiece. The project is still in the early stages, with discussions currently being held over whether the town’s boards or the state should oversee the approval process.

But the issue has always been about more than clean energy. The proposal has divided much of the town on numerous fronts — local versus state control, property values, electricity rates, noise, conservation and rural character.

But Antrim is not alone as it considers its energy and economic future with wind. Groton Wind, LLC, has received approval for the New Hampshire Site... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

A town 25 miles northwest of Antrim provides clues for what wind farm could mean

LEMPSTER — Wind can be as pleasant as a breeze or as destructive as a hurricane, but it will never stop blowing.

An intense debate over wind energy in Antrim has at times made it seem as though the political winds may also never stop swirling. But the fact remains, Antrim may indeed find itself as one of the first towns in the state with a wind farm that contributes to the energy supply.

Eolian Renewable Energy has proposed the installation of up to 10 wind turbines between Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain that will produce between 18.5 and 23 megawatts of power apiece. The project is still in the early stages, with discussions currently being held over whether the town’s boards or the state should oversee the approval process.

But the issue has always been about more than clean energy. The proposal has divided much of the town on numerous fronts — local versus state control, property values, electricity rates, noise, conservation and rural character.

But Antrim is not alone as it considers its energy and economic future with wind. Groton Wind, LLC, has received approval for the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee to take jurisdiction over its project to build 24 wind turbines in Groton, just south of the White Mountain National Forest.

Yet, neither Groton nor Antrim will be the first town in New Hampshire to have a wind energy facility built in the Granite State.

Welcome to Lempster

Large-scale wind energy first came to New Hampshire about three years ago in Lempster, a small town in Sullivan County about 25 miles northwest of Antrim.

With about 1,000 residents, Lempster has about one-third of the population of Antrim, and can be easily missed during a drive up the Highway 10. Very few businesses sit along the road — a convenience store, a plant farm and a few construction companies — but in the distance, giant wind turbines line the skyline on Lempster Mountain.

In 2008, Iberdrola Renewables, a Spanish multinational corporation, built 12 wind turbines, each about 400 feet tall. Most of the turbines stand on property owned by local businessman Kevin Onnela, who continues to profit from the installation through the lease on his land.

He has traveled around the country to spread the word about the benefits of wind energy and the need to build similar projects in the rest of the country.

On May 13, Onnela explained his support for the wind turbines in Lempster and future wind projects on a recent tour of the wind energy facility. His house stands about 500 feet from one of the wind turbines, but he says he has no regrets.

“I wish they’d put more up,” said Onnela as he drove his truck up the road to the turbines that sit on his 1,500-acre property.

Up close, the three 139-foot long blades on each turbine go much faster than they appear to from a distance. Onnela said the blades make about 17 rotations per minute on average.

Some residents in Antrim have voiced concern over the possibility of fatalities involving birds and bats caused by the spinning blades. Onnela said he has yet to find a dead bird near the windmills, and a recent study on his property found that only 12 to 13 birds were killed in a year.

“My cat killed more birds than the windmills do,” he said. According to him, wildlife, such as deer, has also been found beneath the turbines, so they do not scare away animals as some have claimed.

Noise has also been a big issue among those who would be living near the proposed turbines in Antrim.

“A mile away, you won’t hear a thing,” said Onnela, on the noise produced by the blades during lower wind speeds. He said that when the turbines can be heard, it sounds like the ocean breeze or a far away jet.

Living next to a turbine

Lempster resident Bob Smith came back from military service overseas to find a wind turbine 900 feet from his home. He has quite a different opinion on having one these giants in his back yard.

“It is horrible. They are loud as hell,” said Smith. “The tranquility is gone, I can’t go outside and enjoy the peace and quiet.”

According to Smith, the noise of the nearby wind turbine is constant and can sometimes be heard in the house when the windows are shut. He said it is even louder when it is raining or snowing.

Also, tourists will pull into his driveway in order to take pictures of the wind turbine. Smith says he has seen as many as 35 cars in one day.

He added that having a turbine so close to his home has lowered the value of his property and that his electric bill almost doubled once they were in operation.

“All it [wind turbines] is bringing is an eyesore and a higher electric bill,” he said.

According to Lempster Administrative Assistant Ingrid Locher, any change in electricity bills has not been due to the construction of a wind energy facility. She said that many residents hoped their bills would decrease, which was not the case, but as far as an increase there have been no significant changes due to wind energy.

Smith said that not many residents got job opportunities during the construction period of the wind turbines, but admitted that it did help some businesses.

Although he is not a fan of living so close to a wind turbine, Smith still supports wind energy as a renewable energy solution.

“It was great what they do, but to have it right in your back yard is not good,” he said.

Economic impact

Locher said the Select Board had asked the N.H. SEC to take jurisdiction in 2006 because the project was not large enough for the SEC to take it automatically. She said the small town felt it could not handle overseeing the wind project.

“It is such a small town, there is not enough money for legal and engineers to understand what was happening,” she said. “We didn’t even know what questions to ask.”

She said that the wind farm was assessed at $48 million in 2009, which increased the town’s valuation immensely. A settlement between Iberdola and the town this year has lowered the facility’s assessment to $40 million.

According to Onnela, the wind turbines on his property lowered the tax rate by about two dollars in the first year, which he said is a huge help for a poor, rural community like Lempster.

“People stopped in my office and thanked me for lowering taxes,” he said, although he said taxes have gone up since.

Locher said that Iberdrola is the largest taxpayer in town, paying about $700,000 a year in taxes. She said the wind turbines did help lower the tax rate, along with other factors including better budgeting. The tax rate in the town of Lempster is currently $18.45 per $1,000 assessed value.

She said she has not seen depreciation in the value of properties in the town due to the wind project.

According to Locher, Smith applied for an abatement in 2009, and he received $8,400 off his assessment due to the proximity of the wind turbine to his property and its visibility. Locher said owners of other properties near Smith, which are few, have signed a “good neighbor agreement” with Iberdola, which essentially means any property owner cannot complain publicly about the effects of the wind turbines.

Locher said she has only seen one resident who signed the agreement complain.

A business born in wind

Onnela gets financial benefits from having wind turbines on his property, but they have also helped a tiny general store get its start.

Cathy Sturgeon opened Sturgeon’s General Store five months into the construction of the turbines. She said that the influx of construction workers helped launch her business and the wind turbines continue to bring tourists to the area.

Sturgeon said that Iberdrola “respected the town” and told workers that they could get meals at her business.

“They were great people and it helped me tremendously,” she said.

She also made money from T-shirts, stickers and other wind-related souvenirs, although interest in the wind farm has waned over the past three years.

Sturgeon questioned the wind farm at first, but when she learned what the project would actually look like, she was relieved. She imagined hundreds of turbines like they have in other areas of the country, but the smaller scope of the Lempster project put her at ease.

“It is a tough thing to change the beautiful landscape we have, but once I saw there was only 12 [turbines], I felt better. They are spread out, too,” said Sturgeon.

She has been a “big supporter” of wind energy ever since and was even chosen to speak during the dedication of the wind farm.

Her business is about a mile away from a wind turbine, but she says she can barely hear them from outside her store. She said the noise does not bother her at all.

After three years, she said that there is little talk about the wind turbines. Although they do not bother her, she does not like seeing the turbines negatively affecting those who live closer to the turbines.

Other concerns

Some Antrim residents are also worried that the shadows produced by the spinning blades would create a “shadow flicker” on their homes and become a distraction during their day-to-day activities.

Onnela’s wife, Debra Onnela, said that they only experience shadow flicker during the months of October and November for about an hour a day.

It’s not just the shadows that have some residents concerned, but the location of the turbines themselves. The wind turbines proposed in Antrim would be constructed in the Rural Conservation District, which has little development.

Opinions have varied on how the wind turbines would visually affect the landscape in Antrim. Some see the turbines as an eyesore, while others see them as a pleasing and beneficial addition to the landscape

Onnela sees a certain beauty in the wind turbines that share his property.

“If you think those windmills are ugly you have an opinion and an opinion is OK to have, but that’s just an opinion,” said Onnela. “I say they are majestic.”

He added that the windmills are better than the alternative, which could be housing developments that would have a far greater impact on the landscape.

Some differences

While there is much to compare between the Lempster wind project and the one proposed in Antrim, the contrasts are what is making a difference in the planning process.

According to Locher, Lempster does not have any zoning ordinances and the town had to negotiate with Iberdrola on regulations and requirements. The SEC was requested because of this lack of zoning regulation and the ability for the town to handle such a big project.

Locher said that there were few voices against the wind project, with some of the loudest coming from out of town, including an activist named Lisa Linowes from Windham, who runs a wind-energy watchdog website called windaction.org.

Linowes said in an interview on May 17, that she believes the state does not know enough about the impacts of wind energy to regulate it and prevent damage to the wilderness.

She said that Lempster did not have significant areas that were protected, unlike the wildlife conservation focus in the town of Antrim.

Antrim has a stricter process when it comes to development, with more comprehensive zoning that controls development within the town.

She said the wind turbines would have a more negative effect on Antrim.

“I think Lempster is already a few steps down on the ladder where people would tend to move to,” said Linowes. “It was already a community where people would shy away from. I think Antrim will be damaged by the wind project.”

Linowes added that, unlike Iberdrola, Eolian Renewable Energy is a new player in the wind energy business and has not yet built a wind energy facility.

Onnela said he believes that wind energy is the answer to our country’s energy problems and can be a great addition to towns like Lempster and Antrim. He said that our economy is “junk” because we have been outsourcing our energy with oil and the country needs to become energy independent.

“We need to do something somewhere. It makes sense,” he said.


Source: http://www.ledgertranscript...

MAY 20 2010
https://www.windaction.org/posts/24465-a-small-town-s-winds-of-change
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