ANTRIM – Antrim Wind will be going another round with the state’s Site Evaluation Committee after its application for a 10-turbine wind facility on the Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain ridgelines was denied based on negative view impacts at key scenic spots in Antrim. Among the concessions the company is willing to make is eliminating the tower closest to and most visible from Willard Pond.
Antrim Wind filed an application for a rehearing on the project with the SEC on Monday. While the company disagrees with the committee’s decision to deny the project, there are a few things it is willing to do to mitigate the impacts to the viewshed. Along with offering a $40,000 mitigation fee both to the town of Antrim and to the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, and entering into purchase agreements for additional conservation easements, the company has also offered to reduce the project by one turbine.
Antrim resident Brian Beihl said in a phone interview Wednesday that the reduction of one turbine is simple not enough to make an appreciable difference to the impact of the view. “If they had proposed reducing the height by 100 feet on all the turbines, I would definitely be listening carefully, and that might swing me in a different direction,” said Beihl. “But one less turbine means we can still see nine turbines from the boat launch at Willard Pond. It doesn’t really change anything when it comes to the viewshed. Really, one turbine doesn’t make a hill of beans of difference. I don’t see that anything substantive has changed here.”
But Select Board Chair Gordon Webber said that the concessions are acceptable to the Select Board. “As for the town, the Board of Selectmen supported the project with all 10 towers. If they take away tower number 10, is it still acceptable? Sure. We were good with 10, we’re good with nine.”
According to Jack Kenworthy, CEO of Eolian Energy – the parent company of Antrim Wind – the company will first be arguing that the SEC’s original decision to deny the project was in error. “Antrim Wind has been treated differently when it comes to visual impacts than other applicants,” Kenworthy said in an interview Wednesday. “An applicant should be able to rely on previous decisions to set a standard.” Kenworthy pointed to a similar wind facilities in Lempster, which has view impacts on the nearby Pillsbury State Park, and Groton, which has high visibility from Loon Lake, as projects that have gained approval from the SEC in the past. “There are projects that have had similar or greater impact on views that didn’t get the same decision,” said Kenworthy. “So, we don’t think the SEC made the right decision in the first place, but to the extent they disagree, we’re also offering ways to mitigate and address those perceived negative impacts.”
Also, Kenworthy said, the SEC gave a disproportionate amount of weight to a minority of residents, while the majority was in favor of the project.
Antrim Wind has reached an agreement with the town to accept an offer of $40,000 to mitigate impact to the view on Gregg Lake, which will be accepted should the state’s decision be reversed. Similarly, they have extended the same offer of $40,000 to the Audubon Society to mitigate view impacts at Willard Pond. Carol Foss, the director of conservation at the Audubon Society, said in an interview Wednesday that the society has not had any formal discussions on the mitigation offer from Antrim Wind.
“No formal offer has been made to anyone at this organization,” said Foss, who added that the society first learned of the possibility when reading the motion for rehearing filed by Antrim Wind. “Until we have a contact and a direct communication from the company, I’m not prepared to comment on anything they may or may not be offering.” Any decision of acceptance or denial of the offer would be made by the Audubon Board of Trustees, Foss said.
Antrim Wind has reached a purchase agreement for conservation easement rights on an additional 100 acres of land on the Tuttle Hill ridgeline. The town will hold the first of two public hearings on Monday at 7 p.m. to decide whether to accept the easements.