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Wind farm cleared by state panel; Regulators override objections

Construction on a wind farm slated for the Fletcher and Tenney mountain ridges in Groton is going forward after approval by state regulators.

The state Site Evaluation Committee late last week rejected an appeal by Groton and Rumney residents to stop the project and approved the proposal submitted by Groton Wind LLC, an arm of Spanish wind energy company Iberdrola Renewables. The proposal calls for a 48-megawatt wind farm that would be powered by 24 400-foot turbines. Iberdrola constructed the state’s first wind farm in Lempster.

The committee is expected to release its final order on the project – essentially formalizing Friday’s decision – within the next few weeks, said Micahel Iacopino, attorney and spokesman for the committee. The intervenors have 30 days from the date the order is published to decide whether to appeal the issue to the state Supreme Court. Jim Buttolph of Rumney said he and a few other intervenors may take all of the 30 days to decide whether they will appeal.

Barring any further appeals, construction will begin this fall and should be done by the end of next year, said Ed Cherian, one of Iberdrola’s senior developers.

Buttolph, who opposed the project, said in addition to the adverse effects on the local property values, he doubts the wind farm will actually produce the amount of energy the owners claim.

“It appeared to us when we analyzed the engineering numbers that the wind farm people had oversold the project by a significant amount in terms of how much usable power it was going to generate as well as how much carbon would actually be mitigated by replacing whatever fuel sources are available in the region,” Buttolph said.

Cherian said the company has been testing the wind at the site for the past five years and is confident the numbers will hold up. The site is expected on average to power 20,000 homes per year – about 36 percent of peak performance.

He said the wind farm could cost $100 million, and his company wouldn’t go to the trouble and expense if it didn’t believe it would pay off in energy.

Buttolph and other intervenors also object to the federal tax credit the project may ultimately receive once it’s completed.

“What are we doing this for? What are we spending over $34 million in taxpayer money – going on our credit cards for our grandkids and great-grandkids – paying for a federal tax credit,” if the amount of energy coming from the farm is overstated, he said.

Paul Copleman, communications manager for Iberdrola, said if the government approves the company’s application for the credit, the company will be reimbursed for about 30 percent of the cost of the project once it is built.

Groton resident Pamela Hamel, for one, will be happy to see the wind farm built. “Groton doesn’t have commercial businesses. We have no downtown. We have no post office. We have no gas station. We have no little store. We have none of that. So this is wonderful for us. It’s business coming into our community which is going to contribute to our tax base.”

She said she feels for the people on Groton Hollow Road who would have to deal with the aggravation of increased traffic during construction. But she said it won’t be forever, and the product is clean energy.

Throughout the process, some residents raised concerns that the turbines would be bad for several bird species, including peregrine falcons that migrate through the area.

The Site Evaluation Committee included ongoing studies on the migratory bird populations among the conditions it placed on the project. Iberdrola appealed that condition among others to the committee but lost that argument, Iacopino said.

Cherian said the company has been working with the Fish and Game Department to determine how much the turbines would affect the bird populations. So far the studies show no effect, he said. More studies will be done once the turbines go up. If it turns out that bird populations are affected more than initially thought, then there are ways to mitigate the effects, Cherian said. This includes, he said, shutting down the wind farm during certain times of day when the birds are passing through.

Noise is also a concern for residents; the nearest home would be 2,700 feet away from the turbines. Cherian said there was a home closer to the Lempster wind farms his company built, and to date there has never been a noise complaint.