Steady winds from the northwest blow down over Lempster Mountain, across a ridgeline crisscrossed by old logging roads and ATV trails about a half-hour south of Claremont. By this time next year, officials from the world’s largest wind power development company hope to harness those winds for electricity.
After three years of planning and permitting, Lempster wind farm developer Iberdrola received the last of the required state approvals for the project this month. The company hopes to start construction on the $40 million wind farm by the end of the summer and begin making electricity sometime next year, according to project manager Ed Cherian.
When the project is complete, a dozen wind turbines 400 feet tall will stand along the Lempster Mountain ridgeline and generate enough electricity in a year to power roughly 10,500 homes. It will be the state’s first commercial wind project, but it will probably not be the last. Even in New England, where rugged terrain and limited open space have slowed wind power development, signs of industry activity are stirring.
“The U.S. has a lot of wind, and it’s one of the resources we’re starting to take advantage of,” Cherian said. “There is no wind OPEC. No one owns it. It’s free and it’s clean.”
Iberdrola is looking to build more wind farms in New Hampshire and New England, Cherian said. And at least one other company, Noble Environmental Power, has said publicly that it is looking to develop a wind power project in Coos County. In Maine and Vermont, commercial wind farms have been built in the past two years and several others are in the early planning stages. In Massachusetts, the federal government announced at the end of June that it will give the state as much as $2 million to test wind turbine technology.
“What’s happening in New Hampshire fits the national trend,” said Tom Welch, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy’s wind and hydropower technologies program.
Commercial wind projects have been built in 27 states, and the technology for wind energy is the fastest-growing energy generation technology in the country, with 30 to 40 percent growth, according to the program website.
The Energy Information Institute, a government agency that keeps statistics for the Department of Energy, estimates that the amount of electricity generated from wind increased from 6.7 billion kilowatt-hours in 2001 to 25.8 billion kilowatt-hours last year. From 2005 to 2006 alone, the amount of power generated from wind jumped by 8 billion kilowatt-hours: the largest increase among any of the renewable energy sectors, according to annual reviews by the agency. Electricity generated by solar energy, by comparison, totaled only 0.5 billion kilowatt-hours last year.
“The industry is really booming,” said agency spokeswoman Louise Guey-Lee.
But even with the growth of the wind sector, the amount of electricity in the country that comes from renewable sources remains small. Less than 10 percent of all the power generated in the United States comes from wind, water and solar energy combined, according to the Energy Information Institute.
The traditional challenge for wind developers in New England has been finding the right place to put them, Cherian said. The wind has to prove steady and unobstructed by trees and mountains, and it is best if they are built in locations where few people live. Unlike Texas, the state with the most wind farms, much of New England lacks large open spaces with the necessary wind or topography to keep a wind farm in business, he said.
Another challenge for wind development in New England has been local opposition to the projects. Those opposed to the projects have raised questions about the safety of the turbines, noise and visual pollution in the pristine areas where the farms are generally sited, and the impact on local birds and other wildlife.
In Lempster, about 100 petitioners with concerns about the project appealed to the state last year for additional oversight of the project before it could go forward. The petition said the community “has no mechanism to ensure that this significant energy facility will not have unreasonable adverse effects on the health, safety and welfare of the community.” The petition was also supported by the boards of selectmen in Lempster and neighboring Washington. The state board that weighed in the project, called the New Hampshire Electric Facility Site Evaluation Committee, gave its final approval two weeks ago.
Lempster Board of Selectmen Chairman Everett Thurber said he was satisfied by the review.
“The state has been extremely thorough,” Thurber said. “There is overwhelming support for the wind project in Lempster. We see it as benefiting our town.”
Tim Drew, administrator of the state department of environment services’s permitting unit, said concerned parties could still appeal the site evaluation committee’s decision to the state Supreme Court and the project would be further stalled.
Despite concerns about wind power, it is still growing as a source of energy for electricity.
Increasing awareness about global warming, government incentives for renewable power and new cost-effective technology are driving interest in developing more wind power in New England – and the rest of the country, Cherian and Guey-Lee said. More companies are getting into it because new technology makes it more cost-effective at the same time as rising oil and natural gas prices have made traditional sources of electricity more expensive, they said.
High-tech computer systems that can monitor and operate the wind turbines make it possible for wind farm developers to reposition the towers to catch most of the wind at any given moment, Cherian said. The materials the turbines are built out of are also getting lighter, more efficient and therefore more cost-effective each year, he said. “These things weren’t around 10 years ago,” Cherian said.
Iberdrola is a Spain-based company that develops and operates wind farms all over the world. The Lempster project will be its first in New England. The company took over the project last year when it acquired Community Energy Inc. of Pennsylvania – the original Lempster wind farm developer. Iberdrola now has hundreds of wind farm projects under development in the United States alone.
The company is finalizing the last of the agreements it needs with the town of Lempster, the Federal Aviation Administration and PSNH, the utility that will buy the project’s power, Cherian said.
At 24 megawatts, the Lempster wind project is considered small for a utility-scale farm. Recent projects in Texas have been as large as 300 megawatts. But that doesn’t mean the project in New Hampshire is insignificant, Cherian said. It is a sign of what is to come for renewable power in New England.
By Lisa Arsenault
8 July 2007
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