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SEC rejects Antrim Wind project

The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee has rejected a proposed 10-turbine wind project that would have spanned the ridgeline of Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain in Antrim but the company behind Antrim Wind Energy said it is still considering its options following the highly anticipated ruling.

Antrim Wind Energy, a subsidiary of Eolian Renewable Energy located in Portsmouth, proposed a 30-megawatt capacity wind farm. The SEC, which holds jurisdiction over the project, held public hearings that began in October to listen to pros and cons of the proposed wind farm, and concluded those hearings Tuesday. The SEC’s decision to reject the plan was reached late Thursday.

The SEC reviewed the criteria necessary to develop a wind farm on the site and, according to a statement from the SEC on Friday, one criterion failed .

Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected area that belongs to New Hampshire Audubon, and, according to SEC attorney Michael Iacopino, the committee was primarily concerned with the visual impact of the project.

“The subcommittee voted [Thursday] to not to go ahead with the project due to the unreasonable adverse effect it would have had on the area,” Iacopino said in a phone interview Friday.

Iacopino said that the SEC was receiving written statements from residents and people voicing their opinion right up until the end of the day Thursday. There was heavy outpouring from both sides of the issue, Iacopino said.

The SEC plans to issue written order detailing the deliberations, which will be posted on the committee’s website, [www.nhsec.nh.gov], Iacopino said. In a phone interview Monday, he said the SEC has not finalized its written order, and he did not know how long it would be until it is released.

An appeal process is available to representatives of the Antrim Wind Project or other parties opposed to the committee’s decision. It will be made clear what that process entails when the SEC releases more information.

“Obviously we’re disappointed in the decision for a variety of reasons, but I think the decision was clearly a decision that was based solely on aesthetic impacts,” said Eolian CEO Jack Kenworthy in a phone interview Friday. “I think this is a project that has a great deal of economic and clean energy benefits for the region, and had a huge amount of support in the town of Antrim. So we’re disappointed in that and we disagree with the decision. But in terms of options going forward, we’re going to have to wait to see what the written order says once we receive it, and we’ll make a decision at that time.”

Had the project been approved, Antrim Wind Energy would have become the largest taxpayer in the town of Antrim. In a negotiated PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, agreement with the town, Antrim Wind would have paid $337,500 in taxes in its first year of operations, and taxes would have increased by 2.5 percent each year for the next 20 years, according to the agreement posted on Antrim Wind’s website. Over those 20 years, Antrim Wind Energy would have paid $8.7 million total in taxes.

Antrim Wind also expected the project to create 86 full-time equivalent jobs during the construction phase, plus 13 full-time equivalent jobs during operations. Long-term part-time jobs were expected to be created for road maintenance, timber management, electrical work and landscape services.

Peterborough resident Francie Von Mertens — an honorary trustee of the New Hampshire Audubon and member of its Sanctuaries Committee with a special focus on the Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary — sat in on the deliberations. In an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Friday Von Mertens wrote that the SEC spent a lot of deliberation time considering mitigation through terms or conditions, such as requiring land conservation elsewhere, but ultimately decided the impacts were too significant to mitigate.

Antrim Wind’s 10 proposed wind towers would have stood nearly 500 feet from base to the blade at its highest point. They would have been the tallest turbines in New England, according to Von Mertens, impeding the view from the Willard Mountain and Tuttle Hill ridgeline.

Von Mertens added that it’s important to emphasize the fact that the SEC weighs public impacts the project would have, and not impacts on individuals that live in the surrounding area.

New Hampshire Audubon Director of Conservation Carol Foss said in a phone interview Friday that she is pleased with the decision not to go forward with the wind project.

“We’d like to express our appreciation to the SEC for their diligence in a long and complicated process,” Foss said. “It’s important to say that this organization supports appropriately sited wind energy, but felt this project did not meet that criterion.”

Reactions to the SEC’s decision in Antrim were mixed when the Ledger-Transcript interviewed residents and town officials following announcement of the ruling.

Former Antrim Selectman Gordon Webber, who will be running for selectman again in March , supported building the wind farm largely because of the benefits renewable energy would bring to the town.

“We need to move toward increasing our renewable energy sources,” Webber said in a phone interview Friday. “And the same argument for these windmills goes everywhere: that people don’t want to see them. Everybody says they’re all for renewable energy, but they don’t want to see them. Well then you can’t have them.”

Webber said the visual impact was the sole reason the project got shot down.

“Quite frankly, it’s ‘I don’t care who has to see them, as long as it’s not me.’ That’s the attitude that these people have,” Webber said, referring to those who opposed the wind project. “My issue is you don’t own your view. You have a nice view, that’s great. But you don’t own it. I have a nice view in Antrim of the eastern skyline. At night, in the wintertime, every single night I see the lights of Crotched Mountain [Ski and Ride] . They’re very, very bright. In fact, the whole southeastern horizon for me, I don’t see any stars because that mountain is so bright. Well, I also support the local ski area doing business, and I don’t own the view.”

Antrim resident Brian Beihl, who opposed the Antrim Wind Energy project, said in a phone interview Monday that when he got involved, the Antrim Select Board was in the process of turning over the approval process to the SEC , which originally he did not want to see happen. But since then, he said the SEC did a great job keeping the town’s wind ordinance in mind, and made the right call in rejecting the project.

“I’m anxious for the town and people who were pro-wind to read the SEC’s decision,” Beihl said.

But Beihl said he’s not convinced the wind issue is over for Antrim, with a wind-friendly Select Board and the potential for an appeal process.

Other wind projects in New England have seen varying degrees of success recently. Vermont Senators Joe Benning and Bob Hartwell issued a three-month moratorium on a Green Mountain Energy wind farm project late in January, which led U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders to urge Vermont lawmakers to reconsider, according to published reports. And in Maine, the Public Utilities Commission has approved terms for Statoil Hywind to put a $120 million floating turbine test off the coast of the state. The approved plan in Maine for four three-megawatt windmills on floating spar-buoy structures tethered to the ocean floor off the coast of Boothbay Harbor.

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