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State rejects Antrim wind project

ANTRIM – The state has rejected a wind energy project along the Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain ridgelines, citing concerns over its size and proximity to the Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.

The 6-3 decision by a subcommittee of the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee Thursday came as a surprise to Antrim town officials, who had supported the wind farm because of the revenue it would bring – up to $8,700,000 in taxes over the life of the project – as well as its clean-energy claims.

“We felt the majority of the town was in favor of the project and we were representing the majority of the town,” Selectman Michael Genest said Monday.

The panel denied a certificate to the project for Antrim Wind Energy, a subsidiary of Portsmouth-based Eolian Renewable Energy.

“We are obviously disappointed by the decision and we disagree with the decision,” Eolian CEO Jack Kenworthy said.

He said the company will wait to see the panel’s decision in writing and weigh its options; Eolian will have 30 days to appeal.

The 10-turbine project would have had a 30-megawatt capacity.

“The committee deliberated for three full days after hearing more than 11 days of evidence and ultimately decided the project would cause an adverse effect to the aesthetics of the area primarily because of the visual impact,” SEC attorney Michael Iacopino said.

The project’s nearness to the New Hampshire Audubon-held Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary played a part in the decision, as well as the opposition voiced both in testimony and written statements.

“Audubon are very pleased with the decision,” Michael J. Bartlett, president of New Hampshire Audubon, said Monday.

Iacopino said the size of the turbines – 500 feet from the tip of the blade to the base – would have made the wind turbines the largest standing structures in the state. He said the tallest building in Manchester is 275 feet.

Selectman Genest noted the state has approved other wind farm projects, including Groton and Lempster. A 37-turbine wind farm in the Newfound Lake-Mount Cardigan area has also been proposed.

“They put these up in other areas of the state that are just as beautiful as the Willard Pond area,” Genest said.

The Willard Pond Sanctuary is about 1,600 acres, Audubon’s Bartlett said, and is part of a super-sanctuary of 33,000 acres of undeveloped land.

“New Hampshire Audubon in general as an organization supports wind energy, but it always has to be qualified with ‘properly sited’ and we didn’t think this project was properly sited and the Site Evaluation Committee agreed,” Bartlett said.

Kenworthy said Eolian had made a number of compromises on the project, including a settlement with the Appalachian Mountain Club not to have nighttime lights.

“The way the agreement worked, there would be 808 acres that would be conserved and that would be on a project that would have a disturbance area of about only 60 acres,” Kenworthy said.

Fred Ward of neighboring Stoddard said he is thrilled by the state’s decision.

“Those would be the tallest turbines in the state,” he said.

Ward said in his written testimony to the SEC that the turbines would have been the same distance to Stoddard center as the center of Antrim.

“Everybody objects about how they look, but I’m more concerned about the noise that comes from them,” he said.