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Wind company applies for 3 test towers

WINDHAM – A multinational company has formally asked the state for permission to erect three test towers that could be a precursor to Windham County’s first commercial wind turbines.

It is unclear how quickly the state will act to approve or deny the application by Iberdrola Renewables administrators, who hope to gather meteorological information in the towns of Windham and Grafton.

“We have filed, and that starts the process,” Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said.

Iberdrola, operating as Atlantic Wind LLC, wants to place two towers in Windham and one in Grafton on land owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Limited.

The 197-foot-tall towers are held in place by guy lines and have no foundations; Iberdrola said installation would require “minimal clearing.” Also, the structures are not lit.

But the towers nonetheless require issuance of a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board. Iberdrola applied under Section 248, which governs electric-generation facilities, and Section 246, which specifically addresses meteorological-testing towers.

Copleman reiterated that no decision has been made about whether the site is feasible for turbine development.

“Obviously, we can’t know what the site is like unless we have a sense of what the wind looks like,” he said.

But the project already has spurred reaction in Windham and Grafton.

Officials in Windham organized a meeting last month which featured representatives of Iberdrola and Meadowsend as well as two prominent wind-power opponents. The overflow crowd appeared mostly to oppose the tower proposal.

That sentiment would be in line with the town’s plan, which bans large, commercial wind turbines.

Mary Boyer, who chairs Windham’s Selectboard, said officials have been planning and gathering information since that July 11 meeting.

“The town is very much committed to supporting our town plan, as we have said,” Boyer said. “And we’re exploring all kinds of avenues to do that.”

In Grafton, members of the Selectboard and planning commission are planning a visit next month to Iberdrola’s 12-turbine, 24-megawatt Lempster Wind Power Project in New Hampshire. The company had invited local officials and residents to the site.

Also, Grafton officials are hoping to arrange a meeting featuring leaders from Lempster, Searsburg and other areas that host wind farms, Selectboard Chairman Al Sands said.

“They’re living with it,” Sands said. “They’re dealing with it. We’d like to have people who are dealing with it tell us what it’s really like.”

Town officials have not decided whether they will support or oppose Iberdrola’s proposal, Sands added.

“We want to do some homework first,” he said.

While officials have said the two towns’ input will be considered, it ultimately will be up to the Public Service Board to rule on Iberdrola’s application for testing towers.

The company has said it is asking for permission to operate the meteorological towers for three years. But an Iberdrola administrator also has said that the company’s goal is to determine whether the site is suitable for turbines by spring or summer of next year.

Copleman said the test towers can be installed during winter if need be.

“It’s a testament to the relative ease of the process,” he said.