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The path to clean energy investment

In 2010, the Planning Board for the Town of New Ipswich enacted wind turbine zoning rules to guide the development of wind projects within its jurisdiction. These rules established a clear and reasonable standard for wind development, and they had their intended effect: They attracted wind development companies to the area, including our company, Pioneer Green Energy. We diligently went to work developing our project, called Timbertop Wind, under these zoning rules, spending more than half a million dollars to study wildlife, grid interconnection, wind speeds and acquire land rights for a small project.

But then, less than two years later, the Planning Board changed its zoning rules in a way that seriously hindered the development of wind in New Ipswich. These changes basically zone wind “out” and make it impossible to construct wind energy. Our experience attempting to work with the New Ipswich Planning Board over 2011-2012 was summarized best by Jim Parison, state representative from Hillsborough, who wrote an op-ed last year in the Monadnock Ledger Transcript on the subject. Mr. Parison, who also happens to live near the proposed project site, wrote: “. . . a developer came who agreed to play by all the rules. It appears that is when the Planning Board discovered they had failed to zone wind power out and went to work writing a new set of rules.”

Any business owner with a budget can relate to our predicament — how can you begin to work and plan your business if the goalposts are moved half way through the process?

The facts about the Timbertop Wind project, and the substantial efforts we’ve made to address concerns raised by residents of New Ipswich and Temple, seem to have gotten lost in the recent months and continue to be misconstrued. The size of the project has been significantly reduced, from 12 turbines producing 24 megawatts of power down to 5 turbines producing 15 megawatts. The location of the turbines has also been moved north to be further away from residences, such that turbines are now sited in both New Ipswich and Temple.

The Timbertop project would offer numerous advantages to the region, most notably the tax revenue and economic development benefits. This has been the story of wind projects built nearby in New York and New Hampshire in the last few years. In 2007, the community of Sheldon, N.Y., struggled with the decision of whether to approve a wind farm which was eventually constructed in 2009. As a result of an agreement between the wind project and the town, the project pays more than $750,000 each year to the town, and today the town assesses no land tax at all — meaning everyone in the community shares in the benefits of this project. Closer to home, the wind project now operating in the town of Groton, N.H., was also controversial when first proposed. That project was constructed last year, and it generated $528,000 for the town in its first year of operation alone. For perspective, the total annual operating budget for Groton in 2012 was $546,000.

Sheldon and Groton are only two examples of how wind power can revitalize the finances of local governments and create benefits for everyone who lives in the area. Wind projects provide jobs, investment and indirect economic activity in a community in a number of ways. And the benefits don’t end there. Wind energy helps New Hampshire meet its clean energy goals and reduces our reliance on polluting fossil fuels and foreign energy sources making the state and our nation more energy independent.

The proposed Timbertop Wind project would represent an investment of approximately $30 million of new tax base into the New Ipswich and Temple area. We would like to explore the possibility of setting up a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with local taxing entities. A PILOT agreement is a commonly used mechanism to create a steady flow of funds that local officials can count on, and then allocate according to the needs of their community. Such funds could be used to invest in services for the town residents, or even to reduce local taxes.

As stated above, the Timbertop project straddles two towns, Temple and New Ipswich, which each have their own set of zoning rules. This fact creates a difficult circumstance — the project must comply with two entirely different sets of standards, standards which have been changing and may change in the future. Because of this, and our desire to ensure that Timbertop Wind receives a fair hearing, we have petitioned the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) to take jurisdiction over our project.

If the SEC accepts jurisdiction, this process will not exclude the involvement of the towns – the SEC statute explicitly mentions due consideration to be given to local commissions and governing bodies. We place community partnership at the forefront of our development effort and pledge to continue working closely with community. The sooner Timbertop Wind is up and running, the sooner the residents of New Ipswich and Temple will start to see the many benefits of the project. We ask for your continued support as we work to make the Timbertop Wind project a reality.

Adam Cohen is Vice President of Timbertop Wind. Learn more about the project at www.timbertopwind.com.

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