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First public hearing set over jurisdiction of wind project in New Ipswich, Temple

The issue of whether the state or local boards will have jurisdiction over a proposed wind farm on Kidder Mountain is slated come to a head on Monday, when the state will hold a public hearing on the issue in Concord.

In December, Timbertop Wind filed with the state Site Evaluation Committee, which oversees large-scale energy projects, to ask that they take over the decision-making process for a five-turbine wind project that would straddle the towns of New Ipswich and Temple on Kidder Mountain.

The SEC automatically has jurisdiction over wind projects that produce 30 or more megawatts of energy. Timbertop Wind’s proposed facility would only produce 15 megawatts.

As the basis for their request, Timbertop Wind is citing Temple and New Ipswich’s ordinances as more restrictive than projects the SEC has allowed in the past – particularly with regard to noise restrictions – as well as the need to streamline the process through a single board. If the SEC were to take on the project, they could consider the towns’ large-scale wind ordinances, but would not be bound by them.

But the Select Boards and Planning Boards in both New Ipswich and Temple are adamant that the review process should stay with the towns, and that Timbertop Wind should be subject to their town ordinances, both of which passed recently.

In a message posted on Temple’s town website, the Planning Board entreats people to attend the public hearing. “Whether or not you are enthusiastic about having modern windmills rising 500 feet over the top of Kidder Mountain is not the issue,” the message reads. “Local control of the siting, construction and operation of this commercial wind energy facility should remain with the Temple and New Ipswich boards.”

In written testimony submitted to the SEC, New Ipswich Planning Chair Liz Freeman and Vice Chair Ed Dekker argued that the 33 dBA noise restriction in both Temple and New Ipswich’s ordinances can be exceeded either by consent from surrounding landowners, or by variance.

Also, they argued, Temple and New Ipswich were aware of a possible wind project that would involve both towns, and the ordinances are intentionally similar.

“While there are minor differences, our ordinances are consistent or even identical in nearly all areas of importance,” Dekker and Freeman argued.

The main differences between the Temple and New Ipswich ordinances are that Temple’s specified a height restriction, 450 feet, and specified setback, 2,000 feet. The New Ipswich ordinance states that setbacks should be sufficient to protect surrounding landowners and due consideration of the height of turbines would be considered in relation to the surrounding landscape.

The boards have also agreed to review Timbertop Wind’s proposal jointly, to ease the process.

“If Timbertop’s petition is granted, it will send a clear message to communities in New Hampshire that efforts to develop standards appropriate to their community will be undermined if they depart from those applied by the [SEC] to projects that have no application to the unique circumstances present in each town,” Dekker and Freeman wrote.

A public hearing on the jurisdiction of the Timbertop Wind Energy project will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Monday at the N.H. Public Utilities Commission office at 21 South Fruit St., Suite 10, in Concord. Public comment will be accepted during the hearing, or in writing, through the conclusion of proceedings. Written comments can be directed to Jane Murray of the SEC at 29 Hazen Drive, Concord.