Instead of local officials, a state committee will decide whether a wind farm will be built in Antrim because the local process could have derailed the state’s energy goals.
Earlier this year, Antrim selectmen, about 100 residents and Antrim Wind Energy LLC, part of Eolian Renewable Energy of Delaware, petitioned the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee to assert discretionary jurisdiction over the wind project.
Under state law, the siting and construction of all energy plants producing 30 megawatts or more comes under the purview of the Site Evaluation Committee. But the committee can be petitioned to take jurisdiction on smaller plants such as the Antrim project, which is expected to produce about 20 megawatts.
This week, the committee voted 6-4 to assert jurisdiction, which means its decisions supersede any town body decisions, including the local wind ordinance a town ad hoc committee was in the process of penning.
“The majority of the members of the committee had some concerns as to whether the local process will achieve the goals of the energy facility siting statute, and based upon the selectmen’s request (to assert jurisdiction) they thought that the better course would be to exercise their discretionary jurisdiction ability,” said Michael Iacopino, attorney for the Site Evaluation Committee. Iacopino said the lead members of the committee declined direct comment.
The project has been going through the Antrim planning process for two years to build what is expected to be a 10-turbine wind farm on private property along the edge of Tuttle Hill. The planning board already approved a large meteorological tower on the site so Eolian could do wind tests. Eolian then went back to get a variance for the tower from the zoning board, which denied the variance. An ad hoc committee was put together at the request of selectmen to come up with an ordinance addressing alternative plants – specifically wind plants – since none existed. Were an ordinance drafted, it would have gone through local boards and ultimately onto a ballot.
However, Iacopino said, the uncertainty that the ordinance could curb the building of the wind plant flies in the face of the committee’s goals laid out in state law. Those goals include avoiding undue delay in the building of the facilities and ensuring the construction and operation of energy facilities is treated as a significant aspect of land use planning, in which all environmental, economic and technical issues are resolved in an integrated manner.
On Monday, Site Evaluation Committee members asked about the progress of the ordinance, said former selectman Gordon Webber, who was in favor of petitioning the committee. Officials couldn’t produce anything for the committee.
“The fact that they showed up with nothing really dismayed some committee members,” Webber said. “I think it was theirs to win, and . . . I think they kind of blew it.”
Some members of the Site Evaluation Committee wanted to delay the jurisdiction vote until the ordinance was done, but that motion failed in a 5-5 vote.
Iacopino said the committee members who voted against taking jurisdiction were concerned that doing so might circumvent the local process.
The sentiment is the same among residents who opposed the move.
“I am disappointed that NH SEC saw fit to pre-empt the Antrim Planning Board’s work and the opportunity of the voters to have a say,” said town resident Brian Beihl.
Richard Block and Loranne Carey Block, abutters to the Tuttle Hill property, issued a statement in response to the decision.
“It is a shame that there has never been an opportunity for a fair and open forum in Antrim to discuss the effects and consequences an industrial wind facility would have on the character of our town,” their statement said. “In pushing for the state takeover of jurisdiction, the selectmen were absolutely hypocritical since this action blatantly contradicted the mandate they had given to the Planning Board to establish pertinent zoning amendments. Now the voters of Antrim have had their opportunity to make their own decisions taken away from them.”
Residents who support the Site Evaluation Committee’s jurisdiction have argued the town is neither equipped to handle the technicalities of the issue nor endowed with the resources to defend against lawsuits, Town Administrator Galen Stearns said in a previous interview. The town has already been sued by abutters and Eolian.
On Wednesday, Stearns deferred comment on the vote to selectmen Chairman Michael Genest.
“I think with the SEC taking jurisdiction, it’s a benefit to all Antrim residents,” Genest said. “And now we must move forward with the planning board and the board of selectmen to work together so if and when the application is submitted to the SEC, they will be well-aware of what the town’s concerns are.”
Webber also said that even though decisions are being made at the state level, they are still based on existing planning and zoning regulations, not whether the committee likes the project or not. Though to be fair, he said, committee members are also tasked with increasing the state’s renewable energy by 2025.
The question remains whether the ad hoc committee will continue writing the ordinance.
Martha Pinello, who sits on the Antrim Planning Board and the ad hoc committee, said in a voicemail message that she couldn’t comment on what would happen next until the planning board and the ad hoc committee meet Thursday night. Pinello was not available for further comment.
Iacopino said the next step will be for Eolian to submit an application for the project to the Site Evaluation Committee before January 31, 2012. After that, the committee will have a series of public hearings and opportunity for testimony. The committee is also expected to take into account any evidence, such as local ordinances, in its decision of whether to approve the project.
Meanwhile, decisions of the local boards are still being appealed in court by the abutters and Eolian. Block said he’s not sure if anyone is going to appeal the latest Site Evaluation Committee decision, since it would hinge on the case being accepted by the state Supreme Court.
“It’s very disappointing for sure,” Block said in a phone interview. “I think the losers in this, in my opinion, are the people of Antrim.”
Jack Kenworthy, CEO of Eolian, was not immediately available for comment.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding