Voters in Antrim will finally get a chance to say whether they want an ordinance in place regulating large-scale wind farm projects like the one proposed on Tuttle Hill.
Selectmen recently voted, 2-1, to hold a special town meeting to decide whether to keep or scrap the ordinance drafted by the town’s planning board. The two-article ballot will go before voters Nov. 8. Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael Genest was the dissenting vote.
“If both articles were to pass, basically the town of Antrim would be saying that they don’t want any large-scale wind farms in this town,” Genest said. “I believe (the ordinance) is overly restrictive.”
Genest voted against holding the special town meeting because similar events are notorious for having a low turnout, he said, and this is too big of an issue for that, particularly since surveys have shown the majority of people want wind projects in town.
This issue has become a pot boiler for the town since Antrim Wind Energy LLC, part of Eolian Renewable Energy of Delaware, proposed a 20-megawatt wind farm for Tuttle Hill, since revised to 30 megawatts. While many residents have embraced the project, some have balked at the notion, citing noise and aesthetics as major problems.
The questions on the ballot don’t specifically name Antrim Wind or Eolian, but instead would apply to all large-scale wind projects proposed in the town if passed.
On the ballot, article one asks residents to approve the large-scale wind energy facility ordinance which would establish a process for issuing conditional use permits and would set limits for the amount of noise a wind project can make and setbacks it must have from residential areas.
According to the ordinance, setbacks must be, “1.5 times the maximum height of the wind turbine from the nearest property line. Wind Turbines shall be no less than six times the turbine height from occupied buildings of a non-participating property owner.”
The ordinance also allows for additional setbacks to be required in order to meet noise standards.
According to the ordinance, sound pressure levels at the property lines may not exceed 5 decibels above preconstruction ambient levels with a maximum of 43 decibels during the day and 40 decibels at night. Further, noise level cannot be more than 25 decibels above pre-construction levels assumed to be between 25 and 30 decibels. Anyone looking to build a wind farm would need to test the decibel level at every residence within a mile of the project.
The planning board under the proposed variance would only be able to grant a waiver to these provisions with the permission of the nearby affected resident or residents.
Article two asks residents to amend article one to prohibit wind farms from being built in rural conservation districts.
“The way the ordinance is written,” Genest said, “the only way that (wind farms) would work is in the rural conservation districts because of setbacks.”
Therefore, if article two passes it would kill any large-scale wind project that comes to town, Genest said.
“The ordinance is unreasonable and intended to block our project,” said Jack Kenworthy, chief executive officer of Eolian. “The ordinance is anti-wind, anti-wind projects and should be voted down.”
Antrim Planning Board member Martha Pinello said that’s not the case.
“These are the group of developers who, it’s their job to push back,” she said. “That’s part of what they want and the community is setting forth its standards.”
She said the ordinance is meant only to protect residents’ safety and well being.
But she also said, “We now have something that we can show to the SEC. Because in one way this is for our community in the event that anyone applies for wind here. But it’s also understood by much of the testimony we heard from those who sit on the SEC is that they’d like to see what the town of Antrim put together.”
And besides, she said, any future developer looking to build a wind farm, “could go for a variance.” So it’s still possible, she said.
That’s what started the ball rolling for Eolian.
The project has been going through the Antrim planning process for two years. The turbines are about 420 feet tall from base to the tip of the blades and would be roughly 2,200 feet from the closest neighbor.
A previous planning board already approved a large meteorological tower on the site so Eolian could do wind tests. Eolian then went back to also get a variance for the tower from the zoning board. They denied the variance. In the meantime, an ad hoc committee was put together at the request of selectmen to come up with an ordinance specifically addressing wind plants, since none existed.
While all this was happening, selectmen and about 100 residents petitioned the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee to assert discretionary jurisdiction on the wind project.
The SEC automatically takes jurisdiction over projects 30 megawatts or more but can take jurisdiction if it sees fit. It did so at the end of the summer.
Whether the ordinance passes or not, if the SEC allows the project to go forward, Kenworthy said his company put up a contract with the city as part of the application process that provides for noise restrictions and setbacks. The contract also sets aside conservation acres. Further, if the ordinance passes, it may not matter anyway. The SEC has jurisdiction of the project, and as a state entity, its decision supersedes local rule.
“In considering whether to grant the certificate, the Site Evaluation Committee does in fact consider local ordinances and the views of local planning agencies and municipal agencies,” said Michael Iacopino, attorney for the SEC. “So it’s something that would be taken into consideration by the SEC. It’s not necessarily going to be followed. They will certainly consider it as part of looking at the project.”
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