The question of whether to allow a 20 megawatt wind farm in Antrim – which has enraged neighbors and pitted the planning board against selectmen – may not be a local decision for much longer.
Antrim Wind Energy LLC, part of Eolian Renewable Energy of Delaware, Antrim selectmen and about 100 residents have petitioned the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee to assert jurisdiction on the wind project that has been the subject of hot debate in town for two years.
“The petitioners have generally asserted that the town planning board is not capable of properly regulating the site and construction and operation of an energy facility of this size, and that the processes in the town just aren’t there,” said Michael Iacopino, lawyer for the committee. “Then we have a competing petition of hundreds of registered voters that are against the committee taking jurisdiction, as well as the town’s planning board, which is unusual.”
The Site Evaluation Committee is weighing whether it has jurisdiction, and its decision is expected before the end of the month.
The project is proposed for the northeastern summit of the Tuttle Hill ridge and would take up about two miles of ridgeline, said Jack Kenworthy, chief executive officer of Eolian. Though final plans are still in the works, the estimated $45 million project could include 10 turbines standing about 420 feet tall from base to the tip of the blade at the top.
Kenworthy said the closest neighbor will be about 2,200 feet away from the turbines and the entire project would affect about 35 acres. Eolian is in the process of talking with the town about setting aside conservation land to make up for the acreage affected by the project.
Under the law, the Site Evaluation Committee must regulate the siting and construction of any project more than 30 megawatts. The Antrim project, slated for private property on Tuttle Hill, is 20 megawatts. The committee can use its discretionary jurisdiction for energy facilities that fall in the range of 5 to 30 megawatts.
But a resident and intervener in the case, Brian Beihl, said that if the Site Evaluation Committee takes jurisdiction, neither the local government nor residents will get to have a say.
“By allowing this, very early on in the process, to send off this request for jurisdiction off to the state, pre-empted information about the project coming to the townspeople,” he said.
The planning board is also in the process of drafting an ordinance dealing with alternative energy sources in the town. If the state committee accepts jurisdiction over the project, its decision would supersede the ordinance.
Iacopino said the Site Evaluation Committee has heard three wind farm cases – Lempster Wind, Granite Reliable Energy and Groton Wind – and approved all three.
If the Antrim Wind Energy project is approved, people could appeal the case to the state Supreme Court, but that would be their only recourse.
Those in favor of the Site Evaluation Committee taking jurisdiction argue the town is not equipped to handle the technicalities of the issue and doesn’t have the resources to defend lawsuits arising out of it, said Town Administrator Galen Stearns. The town has already been sued by abutters and Eolian.
“I basically side with the selectmen,” he said. “The state has the resources and the knowledge to ask the right questions and the proper procedures to follow. Whereas a town the size of Antrim, which is basically run by volunteers, does not have the time, knowledge or experience to make sure that everything is properly done.”
The town is just as divided over the merits of the project itself.
Kenworthy, Eolian’s CEO, said the spot on Tuttle Hill is ideal because there’s a lot of wind, it’s less than a mile to the nearest Public Service of New Hampshire transmission station and it’s close to Route 9. It’s also an area that’s been heavily logged in the past, he said.
The project, if approved, would only take about six months to build.
He said the wind farm would save the equivalent of 20 million gallons of water – since the power doesn’t require steam – and could offset 50,000 tons of carbon.
“We can’t keep relying on coal and oil,” said Rebecca Enman, an Antrim resident who is in favor of the wind farm. “I think it’s just really nice – a small start in my opinion.” As for the residents against it, “it’s the whole not-in-my-backyard thing,” she said.
The project would be the largest taxpayer in Antrim, Stearns said. Though the exact amount is still being negotiated, Stearns said projects like the Lempster wind farm, which is slightly larger, brings in an average of $700,000 to $800,000 in taxes per year.
“Personally, sitting in my seat, my office, it’s a large tax revenue to the town with no impact on services,” Stearns said. “It’s not like it’s going to be putting any children into the school system or that it’s going to require any expenditure of time from the police or fire departments. (It’s) a fairly low impact, high revenue for the town. That’s a good thing.”
But many neighbors don’t want it. For some, it’s a matter of losing the view they love and having the peace of their homes disturbed by the constant whir of turbines. And for others, Antrim Wind Energy has been much too vague about project details and the full environmental impact of the project.
“While I believe there are compromises we need to make to wean ourselves off foreign oil, or all oil altogether,” Biehl said, “I also don’t want to see that at the expense of the environment.”
One of the opponents’ concerns is that Antrim Wind would have to build a road to the facility.
“This is a major road building project that’s going to involve blasting and runoff and all of those things,” Biehl said. “And that will impact the wildlife, of course. But I don’t have a lot of confidence . . . that the company that is proposing this is going to do everything they can do to prevent that.”
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