The company behind two New Hampshire wind farms would like to build a third and its largest in the state, a 37-turbine project on land in Danbury, Alexandria and Grafton.
Officials from Iberdrola Renewables say they’ve been considering the site for about three years, a mostly behind-the-scenes process that includes extensive wind-quality tests. Now, thinking the site would be a viable place to harness wind, the company has negotiated leasing agreements with seven landowners for about 6,000 acres, only a fraction of which officials say would be developed if the project moves forward.
Edward Cherian, the company’s regional development director, said they could start applying for permits next year, with construction beginning in 2014.
But first, company officials are bringing the public into the dialogue.
At three hearings last week Cherian heard a rash of concerns about the proposed development, known as the Wild Meadows Wind Power Project, with the most vocal opposition coming from members of the recently-formed Newfound Lake Wind Watch. The group, which has gathered nearly 400 Facebook followers in recent weeks, lists among its concerns:
∎ declining property values.
∎ increased taxes based on the state reevaluating the towns.
∎ irreversible damage to aquifers that lie under the construction site.
∎ health effects from the turbines such as headaches.
∎ loss of natural wildlife habitats that will affect the ecosystem long after the wind farm is no longer in use.
Pamphlets from the group and a petition against the development were sitting beside the register at the Grafton Country Store yesterday. A printout in a plastic cover compared how the Statue of Liberty, at 305 feet tall, would stack up next to one of the 400-foot turbines.
Kitty Eggleston, an employee at the store, said customers have been talking – negatively, mostly – about the project. She called the proposed construction “destructive.”
“People come up here for the scenery, not to look at windmills,” she said.
But others in the affected towns, like George Turgeon, didn’t voice the same skepticism yesterday. Turgeon, owner of Stonewall Antiques in Danbury, has a lot of questions, namely where the turbines would be placed and whether they would cause noise pollution, but said he’s open to hearing the answers.
“I don’t have any concerns about it at the moment because I haven’t heard much about it,” he said.
Down the road, the owner of Haunting Whisper Vineyards, Eric Wiswall, said he knows very little about the project but believes it would bring in revenue for the town. The turbines, he said, aren’t unsightly and are a sign of clean energy.
“People are resistant to change,” he said. “But change can be good if it’s done right.”
Jennifer Tuthill, who owns about 100 acres in Alexandria and joined the Wind Watch group last month, said she was “waving the flag for wind energy six months ago.” But after spending about 12 hours a day researching wind power she now believes the blasting required to construct Wild Meadows would “without question cause irreversible changes” to water aquifers in the area.
She called Iberdrola’s response to questions “slick and self-supporting” and said her own “passionate” beliefs are based in facts.
“It’s not a biased point of view. It’s the reality,” she said. “I don’t think any one of us needs to talk to Iberdrola. . . . Whatever they might say, does that change the effect of what clear cutting does around the world?”
But Cherian said he plans to keep talking to the community and has offered to attend question-and-answer sessions whenever the towns would like.
He estimates he held 30 such meetings on the project he oversaw in Groton.
“Some of the people who may have expressed reservations come to these meetings . . . confused by some of the information that’s out there on the web,” said Paul Copleman, a company spokesman. “They’re also equipped with some false information.”
Cherian, who also oversaw Iberdrola’s wind farm in Lempster, said initial public outcry is not uncommon, adding that most of the feedback he’s received on this project has been positive.
“There is a lot of support. It may be quiet support,” he said, acknowledging the hearings last week were dominated by a “small, very vocal minority.”
On Saturday, Cherian took residents from the three towns on a bus tour to the Lempster farm so they could stand under the turbines and hear what he describes as a dull whooshing overhead.
While the company has leased about 6,000 acres Cherian said that includes full tax lots, and the completed project – including the turbines, buildings and roads – would only take up about 1 percent of that land. He noted that while the company will build roads as part of the construction, the land is already covered in existing trails for logging and is not a “dense block of untouched forest.” He said that on both the Groton and Lempster sites wildlife returned as soon as construction ended.
He said the project won’t affect water aquifers because blasting takes place on the top of ridges, far from the water deep below the ground.
Other environmental concerns, Cherian said, will all be properly vetted during the state’s permitting process, which includes substantial studies by the state’s Department of Environmental Services.
He also said independent studies have shown no correlation between proximity to wind farms and dropping property values.
And in Lempster the wind farm actually drew in tourists, so many that Iberdrola drew up brochures to leave at the town hall after employees there complained that inquiring visitors were eating up too much of their time, he said.
“People come up maybe to go look at the leaves or to go fishing or camping or whatever and they say, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ And they go into the town hall and get information,” Cherian said.
The power from the Groton farm, which will go online later this year, will be sold to NStar, a subsidiary of Public Service of New Hampshire’s parent company, Northeast Utilities. Cherian said there isn’t a buyer in line for the proposed Wild Meadows project, as power companies typically look for a set completion date before making purchasing agreements.