Several state lawmakers say they support the possibility of locating windmill turbines off New Hampshire’s coast to generate electricity, though with some reservations.
“I think it’s a very important alternative and we clearly should explore it,” said Sen. Martha Fuller-Clark, D-Portsmouth.
The lawmakers spoke with the Sunday Citizen recently, after HB 873 passed this month. The bill requires electricity providers to get a minimum percentage of their power from renewable resources. Fuller-Clark was among the bill’s sponsors.
Wind power projects off New Hampshire’s shore have yet to be proposed, but she said the possibility should stay open.
“There are many interesting possibilities on the horizon,” she said.
Rep. Thomas Fargo, D-Dover, said offshore wind power projects are likely to face similar challenges to those bedeviling wind projects on land, including environmental and aesthetic concerns.
“I’m in favor it,” he said, “recognizing it has many controversial issues related to it.”
He also supports tidal power. He is sponsoring a bill, HB 694, which calls for a study of tidal power under the Little Bay and General Sullivan bridges.
Rep. James Powers, D-Portsmouth, said wind power must be part of the renewable energy equation. But, he added, there are factors limiting where wind farms can be located.
“My gut instinct is that it would probably be better off on land,” he said.
Challenges for offshore projects can include maritime safety, the ocean environment and the expense and difficulty of moving energy from the turbines to the onshore electrical power grid. Also, projects proposed off the New Hampshire coast would have to consider the migration pattens of birds; the Isle of Shoals is a frequent layover for birds.
Offshore wind power could work if designed properly, but may not be ideal, Powers said.
“The best use of wind power may be in smaller units,” he said.
Rep. Jim Garrity, R and D-Atkinson, is the chairman of a subcommittee evaluating potential wind power sites for New Hampshire’s Energy Policy Commission. He said the subcommittee is looking into both the opportunities and challenges of establishing wind power facilities in the state.
“The subject will be looked at very closely,” he said. “We want renewable energy sources here in New Hampshire.”
Opponents often challenge offshore wind power based on the subjective notion of viewscape, he said.
He does not believe wind turbines are unattractive, he added.
“My personal feeling is if we can find offshore sites, that’d be great,” he said.
Offshore wind power hasn’t often been discussed in the House, he said. When it has come up, representatives have questioned the availability of appropriate sites given the state’s limited coastline.
Maine state Sen. Peter Bowman, D-Kittery, said he’d support a wind power project off Maine’s coast if it is technically and economically feasible.
“I’m in favor of alternative energy sources,” he said.
There are some wind farms on land in Maine and proposals for more, he said.
New Hampshire has wind resources consistent with utility-scale production, with the best sites on land on ridge crests in the White Mountain region, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
There’s more wind offshore, but the challenges a proposed wind project off Cape Cod is facing likely would apply to proposals off New Hampshire’s coast, said Joseph Broyles, energy program manager with the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning.
The state Site Evaluation Committee must approve New Hampshire projects over 30 megawatts, he said. The committee is made up of several state agencies who each submit permit conditions.
The process may be more involved for offshore projects, Broyles said.
The committee accepts, rejects or exempts applications within 60 days of filing. The approval process begins once the project is accepted.
The committee holds a public meeting within 30 days, and individual agencies in the group submit final decisions within 8 months. The committee then has 9 months to make a final decision.
Getting steadier, less turbulent wind is the primary benefit of offshore wind projects, according to Laurie Jodziewicz, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association, a national trade group in Washington, D.C.
Offshore turbines also would be near customers as populations are greater near coasts. New England is densely populated, and there aren’t as many places as elsewhere for wind farms on land, she added.
“We haven’t seen a single offshore project in the U.S,” she said. “But I think we will.”
There are offshore projects adding up to about 800 megawatts in other countries. An offshore wind turbine is a modified version of a land turbine. They generally are anchored into the seabed in water no deeper than 100 feet, usually in depths half that. There are limited places where the depths are appropriate, given current technology, she said.
Most projects are several miles off the coast, often to cut visibility. Regulations for projects in water more than 3 miles off shore still are being written, she said.
The projects are expensive, she added.
The marine environment’s salt, ice and waves adds maintenance costs, as does the need to run cables underwater.
New Hampshire’s first commercial wind farm, owned by Christian Loranger of Loranger Power Generation Corp. of Acushnet, Mass., was in Berlin on Jericho Mountain.
“The city has always supported it from the beginning and still does,” said Berlin City Manager Patrick MacQueen.
The four-turbine, 1.4-megawatt project can power 700 homes. But it was vandalized over the summer, requiring extensive repairs. Loranger did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Another wind farm in the state is still in the permitting process after about three years. Community Energy, Inc., based in Randor, Pa., has proposed a 24-megawatt windfarm on Lempster Mountain. The 12 turbines, each about 400 feet tall, would provide enough power for more than 1,000 homes.
The project has received more than $240,000 in a predevelopment grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Iberdrola, S.A., a Spanish renewable power company, recently bought Community Energy.
Ed Cherian, Lempster Mountain’s project manager, said the company finished three days of state site evaluation committee hearings last month, and deliberations begin in May.
They hope to begin construction in the late summer or early fall, he said, and be online in the summer of 2008.
Many biological surveys were conducted to determine any environmental ramifications from the project, he said.
“Wind power is unique in that really you have, depending on your site, minimal environmental affects,” he said. “It’s emissionless, clean renewable energy.”
The Industrial Wind Action group of Lyman opposes the project.
“We’re interested in renewable energy as an important compliment to fossil fuel use,” said Lisa Linowes, the group’s executive director. “Wind is probably the least valuable.”
She said she values using biomass, methane and hydropower over wind.
Wind doesn’t make enough power on summer days when it’s needed most, she said, adding that wind blows hardest on winter nights when demand is lowest.
The Lempster project may produce only an average of 6 megawatts, she said. She compared that to the more than 1,000 megawatts the Seabrook nuclear power plant produces at any given time.
Also, the project, with its 5-mile long road in a heavily forested area, would affect the environment, she said.
“The impacts of the facility are not offset by the amount of generation,” she said.
Offshore winds, on the other hand, are more steady and generate more continuous electricity, Linowes said.
“Wind belongs off shore,” she said, but added that turbines have to be in deeper waters so the blades don’t hurt birds.
The Cape Wind project off Cape Cod in Massachusetts does not meet this standard, she said.
The project, which would involve 130 wind turbines in a 25-square-mile area in Nantucket Sound, could provide 75 percent of the electricity for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, project officials say.
It is undergoing a federal and state permitting process. Construction is scheduled for 2010.
By Chloe Johnson
29 April 2007
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