GRAFTON – The renewable energy company that opened New Hampshire’s first wind farm in Lempster in 2008 is eying an area south of Mount Cardigan State Park in the towns of Grafton, Alexandria and Danbury for another possible wind farm.
Atlantic Wind, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, has erected seven 200-foot-tall meteorological data collection towers – one on Grafton’s Melvin Mountain, two on Alexandria’s Forbes Mountain and four on Danbury’s Tinkham Hill. Ed Cherian, an Iberdrola project manager, said his company is in the process of gathering and analyzing weather data along ridgelines east of Route 4.
Melvin Mountain has an elevation of about 2,175 feet. Wind farm turbines, which can be roughly 250 feet high and carry 140-foot blades, would be visible from Mount Cardigan and numerous other locations in the area.
“Any potential wind farm is a long ways out,” said Cherian, who estimated Iberdrola will make a decision late this summer on whether to propose such a project for the area. “We’ve leased a bunch of land and done environmental surveys looking at wetland and birds,” he said.
“Clearly, we’re interested in the area and think the wind is high quality, but we have to make sure the site is appropriate and that the engineering can work. Even if the environmental and wind factors are right, can we build a road to the site?”
Cherian noted that Iberdrola applied for and received town permits for all the meteorological towers and that “in all three towns, we appeared before the board of selectmen at least once to discuss” them. The Grafton tower and two of the four in Danbury were installed in 2009, the two in Alexandria were put up in January of this year and the two others in Danbury were erected in March.
Iberdrola is also building another wind project on a farm in Groton, in eastern Grafton County, near Plymouth.
The prospect of a wind farm in Grafton has raised some alarm, but also generated support from renewable energy advocates.
“I didn’t move to the country to look at an erector set;” said Bob Piehler, a Long Island, N.Y., native who’s lived with his wife, Edna, atop an Alexandria ridge for the past 27 years and can see several of the meteorological towers. “But this stuff comes to the country because it impacts a smaller population.”
Grafton Selectboard Chairman Steve Darrow said he generally backs green energy but isn’t sold on the idea of turbines nearby. He said he thought Grafton’s residents would be roughly split on the idea, should Iberdrola propose to move forward with a wind farm in town.
“I’m for wind power but I’m also a big hiker and climb Mount Cardigan 100 times a year,” Darrow said. “I wouldn’t like to see turbines on its ridgelines. Technology changes so fast and who’s to say that it won’t change in several years and we’re left with (turbines as) eyesores?”
State Rep. Chuck Townsend, a Canaan Democrat whose district also includes Grafton, said he’s favorably inclined toward the idea. He toured the Lempster wind farm last year and came away impressed by the turbines’ low noise emissions and how Iberdrola dealt with Lempster’s citizens and the environment.
“They consulted with area residents very thoughtfully and thoroughly before they proceeded and they constructed the access roads to the farm by avoiding wetlands and erosion,” said Townsend, a onetime science teacher at Hanover’s Richmond Middle School. “They monitored and continue to monitor possible damage to birds and other wildlife.”
Another supporter is Catherine Mulholland, a former member of the Grafton Planning Board, a current member of the town’s Budget Committee and a former Democratic state representative from 2005-2010. Mulholland said she believes birds and other wildlife would adapt to the raising of wind turbines and fully supports their local use.
“I think they’re beautiful, although I know people who think they’re absolute eyesores,” Mulholland said.
“I would think you could see plenty of things from the top of Mount Cardigan and say they’re manmade objects and spoil the view. The fire watchtower could been seen as an eyesore.”
Iberdrola spent roughly $60 million to build the 12-turbine Lempster wind farm and is projected to spend about $120 million on its Groton project, which is twice as large .
At full capacity, the Lempster farm is projected to provide enough annual power for 30,000 New Hampshire homes, while the Groton farm is projected to provide enough for 60,000.
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.
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