Orange — A proposed multimillion-dollar wind energy project that could implant 500-foot turbines on as many as 29 hilltops near Mt. Cardigan will be the subject of three ballot items and one business-meeting article at Orange’s 2015 Town Meeting.
Voters also will be asked to approve a 1.8 percent increase in spending without knowing its impact on the town tax rate.
That would depend on various factors, including the results of a townwide assessment and the Selectboard’s decision on how much to kick in from a six-figure fund balance, according to Robert Proulx, the clerk of the Budget Committee.
The Spruce Ridge Wind Project has become a hot topic in Orange despite the limited paper trail left by developer EDP Renewables, a company with annual sales of more than $1.4 billion. EDPR wants to build turbines in several local towns and generate electricity to sell to distant users.
So, although needed approvals for the project will come from state and federal reviews, the town is busy seeking to influence the process. One ballot item in Orange would, simply, oppose the project. Another would extend a thumbs down to “the development of an industrial wind turbine project along the mountain ridge lines visible from the Town of Orange, and any such project located within the Town of Orange or surrounding towns.”
A third item on the ballot would require any developer who builds a wind power facility to post a bond in an amount determined by the town Selectboard and Planning Board “to cover the cost of removal and disposal of the wind facility and the remediation of the landscape” if the power complex were shut down.
None of the items would be enforceable by the town but the votes could be considered by state officials in their review, Proulx said.
Orange’s Selectboard and Planning Board unanimously recommended passage of all three ballot measures, as well as a business meeting article that “does not support negotiating” a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal with the developers. That same article goes on to itemize the financial considerations that should be included if such a deal were to get done: an amount equal to normal property taxes; fire, public safety, road, insurance, environmental and legal costs incurred by the town; and offsets for the facility’s impact on property values, tax loads, public health and the environment.
So far EPDR has not filed an application with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee for permission to build Spruce Ridge, but in a 2013 filing in a related matter EDPR said it hoped to invest $140 million to build 15 to 25 turbines in a “wind farm,” and that the project was expected to have 60 megawatts of electric generation capacity. A megawatt typically powers at least 750 homes.
Adam Renz, an EDPR spokesman, said that the company was seeking permits for the project but that it had not yet secured a contract to sell the power it would generate. Such contracts normally last for 20 years and are in hand before a wind project gets built, he said.
EDPR is a Portuguese company that acquired its North American operations in 2007 in a $2.3-billion deal with Goldman Sachs, which had purchased the same holding for $1 billion two years earlier.
EDPR’s 2013 statement said that its local project would “involve working with a single landowner” and deliver its electricity to the grid through an existing transmission line. It said the project would also generate “over 100 construction jobs and several permanent positions.”
New Hampshire Wind Watch, a nonprofit that opposes the project, said that EDPR now wants to build 29 wind turbines, each half again as high as a football field (excluding end zones) tipped into the air, on ridges north of Mt. Cardigan and west of Newfound Lake, and that EDPR has already leased 3,500 acres. Renz did not respond to an emailed request for comment on those assertions.
Orange’s proposed budget includes $10,000 to pay for legal representation for the town as the state Site Evaluation Committee considers the Spruce Ridge project. The town’s total legal expenses would jump 46 percent, to $19,000 from $13,000 last year.
To offset the spending on lawyers, the budget committee proposed that the town not contribute to its six capital reserve funds. Last year the town kicked in $9,500 to those reserves, which had a balance of $57,500 at the end of 2014.
Overall, the proposed town budget includes a 1.8 percent increase in spending, to $241,200, and estimates that the town would collect $140,500 in property taxes. That would be a 9.5 percent increase from last year, when the town collected $128,300 in property taxes after the Selectboard tapped the town’s unreserved fund balance for $45,000.
Last year, the town’s tax rate was $3.07 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $767.50 for the owner of a $250,000 property. Including the school district tax rate of $15.02, the state education tax of $2.54 and the county tax rate of $2, property in Orange was assessed at a rate of $22.63 per $1,000 in 2014, creating a $5,675.50 tab for the owner of a $250,000 property.
Proulx declined to speculate on the town tax rate for the current year, noting that the results of a town-wide assessment were still not in. In addition, the Selectboard could reduce the tax rate by tapping a portion of its unreserved fund balance, which stood at $138,400 at the end of 2014, according to Proulx.
Orange voters will also fill several vacancies in town offices, including a three-year term on the Selectboard. None of the town’s 300 residents stepped up to be listed as a candidate for that job. Town Clerk Sophie Seace is seeking re-election and a three-year term on the budget committee.