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Wind farms have the attention of regional planning agency

MEREDITH – The potential for continued development of wind farms on the mountain tops and ridgelines in parts of central New Hampshire is an issue now clearly on the radar screen of the Lakes Region Planning Commission.

The commission held a meeting this week designed to give members a better understanding of the permit process for building electric generation plants capable of producing 30 megawatts of power or greater. And while the site evaluation process applies to all kinds of electric production, the construction of a 24-turbine wind farm in Groton and the possibility of two more being built in the Newfound Lake area clearly “flavored” the discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, according to Planning Commission Executive Director Kimon Koulet.

Koulet said that the issues and concerns raised would be on the agenda for the commission’s executive board when it meets on Feb. 13. He said that it would be up to the executive board to set whatever course the commission follows regarding the wind farm development.

But Koulet noted that the continued impetus for development of large-scale wind farms in the Northeast raises questions which deserve to be addressed. He noted that the issue is taking on added relevance because two of the three communities (Alexandria and Danbury) where Spanish wind-power company Iberdrola Renewables wants to build the 37 tower Wild Meadows project are members of the LRPC. Another wind farm being considered, this one involving 15 to 25 turbines, would be built on land in Groton, Alexandria and Hebron by EDP Renewables, a Portuguese company.

Koulet said that although the Wild Meadows project has yet to be formally proposed, it merits scrutiny. Moreover, he said that in view of growing concerns over possible environmental and economic effects of major wind projects it would be beneficial to hold off approving such project until the details of those impacts are better and more fully understood.

Acknowledging that “people in general are interested in renewable energy,” Koulet said that there is also a real concern that erecting massive turbines on towers that reach hundreds of feet into the air could seriously hurt the state economically.

Koulet said New Hampshire’s scenic vistas are essential to the vitality of that part of the economy which relies on travel and tourism.

“How does that (natural beauty) match up with putting industrial size power plants on the horizon?” he asked. “How about the places that people here view as the cornerstone of their state?”

Koulet said that the wind farms that now exist or are being talked about are prompting opposition from people in the Newfound Lake Region. But he ventured that the public reaction would similar if a project were to be proposed near Squam Lake or Lake Winnipesaukee.

“Each time a wind project has been proposed the opposition has increased and gotten louder,” he noted.
Koulet said that many who attended Tuesday evening’s meeting in Bridgewater were struck by Iacopino’s statement that not once has the Site Evaluation Committee ever rejected a power project during the 21 years the committee has been existence.

Koulet said it is important for policy makers and regulators to get a better handle on the kinds of energy mix the state should have, and on the criteria used to decide where best to locate power generating facilities. “I think that conversation needs to happen,” he said. “We need a forum in which such a conversation can occur.”