A proposal to build a 48-megawatt wind farm in Groton is headed down to the wire after a week of hearings on the project concluded with several lingering questions.
The state Site Evaluation Committee, which oversaw this week’s hearings, has until Dec. 22 to decide whether to allow a local arm of Spanish firm Iberdrola Renewables to build two dozen 400-foot turbines along the Fletcher and Tenney mountain ridges near Plymouth.
But due to unresolved issues that prompted one intervenor to ask the committee yesterday to deny the project, Iberdrola now must work quickly if it hopes to receive approval before the deadline set by state law.
A key issue is a newly proposed power line route to connect the turbines with the PSNH energy grid. Last month, Iberdrola, which first applied for state approval in March, revised the route due to complaints from residents and concerns about easements. The alternate plan also includes a step-up station where the voltage would be increased before being added to the grid.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter Roth, who represents the public interest in the case, said this is the first time he has seen a power line route changed in the middle of the application process.
“That doesn’t happen in my experience,” Roth, who has represented the state in other wind energy cases, told the committee.
Additionally, the state Division of Historical Resources recently rejected a submission from Iberdrola that the state agency said lacked sufficient information to address the project’s impact on historical aspects of the community. Officials say getting final approval from DHR could take several months.
Those two issues are coupled with the fact that a plan for eventually decommissioning the project has yet to be agreed upon by Groton and Iberdrola officials, and just yesterday the state Department of Fish and Game issued its final report on the project’s effects on avian wildlife.
Despite the loose ends, hearings on the project were supposed to wrap up yesterday. In the afternoon, James Buttolph, a Rumney resident who has intervened in the case to oppose the project, asked the committee to deny Iberdrola’s proposal because “they couldn’t get their homework done by now.”
“They’ve had a long time to get this right, and they certainly haven’t met the burden of proof in our view,” Buttolph said.
Roth said he understood Buttolph’s frustration but was more measured in his approach. Roth requested the committee suspend the deadline until further hearings could be held in the spring, giving all parties more time to grapple with recent developments in the case.
“We have fairly significant missing pieces of information that will make it very difficult for the committee to make its decision,” he said. “The answer is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
After hearing from Roth, Buttolph and Iberdrola attorney Susan Geiger, the committee met privately for about 20 minutes with its attorney. Afterward, the committee voted unanimously against Buttolph’s motion to deny the project.
Instead, Chairman Thomas Getz asked Roth and Geiger to try to come to an agreement on how quickly the issues surrounding the project can be resolved. If no agreement is reached within the next two weeks, both attorneys will write letters explaining to the committee why they believe their timeline is appropriate.
State law gives the committee a 240-day window to approve or deny the project, beginning with Iberdrola’s intial application on March 26. According to the law, the Dec. 22 deadline can be suspended if at any time the committee deems it to be “in the public interest.”
Ed Cherian, Iberdrola’s project manager, acknowledged after the hearing that getting the project approved on time “could be a lot of work.” But he argued that most of the outstanding issues are “a matter of clarifying.”
“I’m hopeful that we can get this done before Dec. 22,” he said.
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