Large-scale wind policy missing
Brian Beihl of Antrim has raised concerns about two town officials backing the Antrim Wind project in an online web video. Beihl’s position is that doing so is a conflict of interest for them. But what’s more concerning from our point of view is how the lack of a clearly defined wind energy policy in New Hampshire has driven wind developers to resort to infusing themselves in local politics in order to forward their cause.
Numerous examples in Antrim call to mind this reality, including the fact that Antrim Wind not only authored a payment in lieu of a taxes plan — in the event that its 9- or 10-turbine plan is ever approved for the ridgeline of Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain — but also authored a petition wind ordinance appearing on the ballot this year that would presumably set the stage for its plan in Antrim, should the application be submitted once again.
The state Legislature enacted RSA 674:63, which went into effect in 2009, barring municipalities from unreasonably restricting small wind energy systems, which refers to systems with capacity of not more than 100 kilowatts. The Antrim Wind project is asking for development of a 27-megawatt capacity system.
The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, a state committee that oversees the siting of large-scale energy projects and sometimes smaller ones as requested, denied Antrim Wind’s application for a 10-wind turbine plan in February 2013, citing aesthetic concerns, particularly for some scenic spots in town, including Gregg Lake and Willard Pond. And while the SEC has brought a level of expertise to large-scale projects throughout the state, it’s no substitute for a unified policy.
Residents of New Hampshire are torn between preserving their small-town, rural way of life and tapping into alternative energy options that could change the landscape. We have to admire the healthy skepticism many people have for developers coming in with their big, expensive plans. But the alternative is looking for ways to partner with them, which is what the Select Board in Antrim has done — but the question is: At what cost?
Close ties between the Select Board and Antrim Wind have caused some residents to question the board’s loyalty and objectiveness. In May 2013, for example, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge David Garfunkel ruled that town officials violated the state’s Right-To-Know law by holding illegal nonpublic hearings with Antrim Wind Energy and its counsel to negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT agreement. The suit was brought by Gordon and Mary Allen, among other residents, and Planning Board member Charlie Levesque, who had tried without success to obtain minutes for the meeting held with Antrim Wind officials.
This kind of internal divisiveness is what concerns us. The solution is for residents to call upon their representatives in Concord to develop a broad-based consensus on large-scale wind energy projects that better defines the state’s position, thus setting the ground rules to better assist towns in navigating the process.