EDP Renewables, an international energy company, is seeking approval to build a 60-meter meteorological tower in Groton to begin studying wind quality for a new wind farm straddling the border of Groton, Alexandria and Hebron.
The potential wind farm would be the third in the Newfound Lake region, and the second in Groton. The town’s planning board is holding a public hearing tonight at 7 on permitting placement of the tower, which is one of the initial steps toward building the proposed 3,500-acre wind farm. It would include 15 to 25 turbines among the three towns and generate 60 megawatts of power, enough to power more than 14,000 homes, said Jeffrey Nemeth, project manager for EDP.
Although construction on the project, called Spruce Ridge Wind Farm, is not a guarantee and is several years away, some residents and environmental groups plan to oppose the tower, on grounds that wind power is inefficient and could destroy the region’s tourism industry.
The planning board, however, hopes to keep the hearing focused solely on whether the tower meets the town’s site plan review regulations, and not have a debate on the pros and cons of a new wind farm.
“The hearing is about the ‘met tower.’ Period,” said Steve Spafford, planning board chairman.
Groton in control
Although the wind farm would have turbines in all three towns, the proposed tower will be in Groton, adjacent to Spruce Ridge Road, so the company only needs approval from Groton’s planning board. All projects generating more than 30 megawatts of energy must get permits from the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, making some opponents worry that allowing the tower is the last chance for locals to have their say.
“If the town gives the met tower the thumbs up, that’s it for having any control over the wind turbine that’s going to follow,” said Jenny Tuthill, an Alexandria resident and member of New Hampshire Wind Watch, a group that opposes wind turbines in the area.
But the company would still have to make tax agreements with the town, and the town and individuals can apply for legal intervener status, giving them a voice in the permitting process, said Pamela Hamel, administrative assistant to Groton’s select board.
In addition to using the tower for wind study, EDP will conduct wildlife studies, wetland delineations, visual simulation models, sound studies and more, Nemeth said. The earliest the turbines would be built is likely 2015, he said. EDP chose the area because it is a prime resource of wind in the state, and EDP was able to lease 3,500 acres of land from Maxam North America Inc.
EDP first requested a zoning change from Groton’s zoning board at a November meeting. Following that meeting, Nemeth began a presentation on the proposed wind farm to the planning board, taking several attendees from Alexandria by surprise because they and other abutters did not know the zoning change was related to a wind farm.
“Abutters to the Groton property were not all informed of this, and that’s really a crucial thing,” Tuthill said. “If you’re an abutter you need to be informed of these things, and they hadn’t done that.”
But communicating with locals throughout the process is important to EDP, Nemeth said, and the company plans to have meetings with all stakeholders over the next several years.
“Our company definitely takes the stance of community involvement, recognizing that the wind farm becomes part of the community,” he said. The company will work on “really opening those lines of communication so people can actually come to us for facts rather than listening to a neighbor’s rumors.”
History of debate
Groton and surrounding communities have found themselves in debates over wind farms before. Iberdrola Renewables put its first meteorological towers in Groton in 2006, and the Groton Wind Farm received state approval in July 2011. The turbines should have a date set to go online by the end of this year. In November, Iberdrola proposed a 37-turbine wind farm on land in Danbury, Alexandria and Grafton.
Opposition to the EDP project is more pronounced than opposition to Iberdrola’s first wind farm in Groton, Hamel said. Some people have expressed concern that the town already has a wind farm and doesn’t need another, fearing it could harm the area’s tourism industry.
Potential harms to tourism and the environment outweigh energy benefits because wind farms are not very efficient, said Tuthill, of New Hampshire Wind Watch. The turbines, which are more than 400 feet tall, can cause a decline in property values and may deter tourists who come to the region for its natural beauty, she said.
But wind farms can also give towns a major revenue boost.
The Groton Wind Farm, for example, is not yet online and has already brought in $236,000 in revenue from a land-use-change tax and two payments of $50,000 during the construction phase, Hamel said. The first year’s payments are expected to double the town’s budget.
That leaves a lot of extra money for voters to decide what to do with. Improving roads, saving money for the capital reserve fund and tax relief are ideas that have been floated, but it will be up to voters to decide how to spend the money.
And although public opinion on both sides will likely be voiced at tonight’s meeting, the planning board will focus on whether EDP’s proposal for the tower falls within the town’s regulations.
“I’ve tried to explain to people you can’t just decide, ‘I don’t like the project so we’re going to say no,’ ” Hamel said.
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