BERLIN, N.H. –Christian Loranger has gone from farming cranberries to farming wind.
If all goes according to plan, three windmills he is erecting on Mount Jericho will be producing electricity by the end of the month, a first for the state.
Loranger, a 35-year-old from Acushnet, Mass., whose first entrepreneurial effort involved a cranberry bog, moved on to real estate development and now wind power with Loranger Power Generation.
Loranger bought used windmills from a California wind farm. Each is 160 feet tall with two white blades gently curved like a modern sculpture.
During a recent visit, the poles lay along a ridge like downed trees.
Once rotors and blades were attached, a winch would raise them. Wind that flows off the northern mountains, gathering speed in a natural wind tunnel over Jericho Lake, will power them.
Loranger spent many months researching wind power and studying wind maps produced by the federal government before settling on Berlin as a location.
Though neighbors and environmentalists oppose some bigger wind projects elsewhere in northern New England and beyond, Loranger said Berlin’s city government welcomed him and there was ridgetop land for sale close to the three-phase power lines he needed. It didn’t hurt that he was familiar with the North Country from many years of skiing.
"I really love the area," he said.
So trusting the force of the wind on his skin, he skipped the usual onsite wind studies and set to work finding the right windmills, getting city approvals and clearing a path for utility poles placed up the mountain.
Mayor Bob Danderson is enthusiastic about the project, saying it will help diversify the city’s mill-based economy. He’s also impressed that Loranger is doing this with his own money and sweat equity.
Loranger’s interest in alternative energy also extends to hydrogen fuel cells, which will be the focus of a project he plans to tackle after the wind farm begins producing electricity.
Before raising the windmills, Loranger had to install cables to take the power off the mountain, a task he took on with help from his 63-year-old father, Bernard. The pair used a bucket truck pulled up the mountainside by an excavator to run the cable over the poles and onto the requisite insulators.
"I’ve lost 40 pounds running around the mountain," Loranger said. "It’s a massive undertaking."
The windmills will produce a maximum of about 1,400 kilowatts per hour, enough for about 700 homes, he said.
Public Service Company of New Hampshire will put the electricity onto the grid.
He hopes to get a fourth windmill operating at the site in March. If all goes well, he envisions someday expanding to produce up to 20 megawatts of power, 14 times the initial output.
Still, Loranger’s project is relatively small compared to other wind farms in New England and smaller than many that are proposed.
In southwestern New Hampshire, Lempster has approved a plan by a Pennsylvania company to erect 12 wind turbines, much larger than Loranger’s, on Lempster Mountain.
Vermont has the Searsburg wind farm, which dates from 1997, with 11 turbines on a ridge line next to the Green Mountain National Forest. The company involved, the Deerfield Wind Project, wants to add 20 to 30 turbines extending into neighboring Readsboro.
In western Maine, a Canadian company wants to erect 200 wind turbines on mountains north of the Sugarloaf USA ski area.
TransCanada is seeking state approval for the wind farm, which would generate enough power for 70,000 households.
Another project, a joint venture of Endless Energy Corp. of Yarmouth and California-based Edison Mission Group, calls for 30 wind turbines just west of Sugarloaf. The Land Use Regulation Commission is reviewing Maine Mountain Power LLC’s 1,600-page proposal.
In northern Maine, Evergreen Wind Power LLC hopes to erect 30 wind turbines on Mars Hill Mountain in Aroostook County.
Some environmentalists are fighting the larger wind projects. They say 300- to 400-foot towers are too big, noisy and destructive to birds and bats, which can be killed by the spinning blades.
Lisa Linowes of National Wind Watch says a project on the scale of Loranger’s isn’t nearly as bad as some. But if it succeeds, she predicts big companies will try to move in to capitalize on the resource.
"What he will do is invite big wind into Berlin," she predicted.