ANTRIM – The state Site Evaluation Committee will consider Wednesday whether it will uphold a January decision that denied a 10-turbine wind farm in Antrim, or rehear the application.
The SEC turned down an application by Antrim Wind Energy in January that was seeking to put up 10 wind turbines on Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain based on the negative aesthetics the project would have. Since that decision, the town has accepted $40,000 in mitigation funds from Antrim Wind Energy to provide relief for view impacts on Gregg Lake, and the company has indicated they are willing to eliminate the tower that would be positioned closest to and most visible from Willard Pond.
The turbine’s elimination would reduce the project’s potential energy output from 30 megawatts to 27. The company has also negotiated a purchase agreement for 100 acres of conservation easements on land surrounding some of the turbines, on the ridgeline, offering to allow the town to hold the easements. The Select Board decided in a public hearing in June to allow the issue to go before voters in a warrant article at Town Meeting in March.
The SEC may turn down Antrim Wind Energy’s request for a rehearing. If that occurs, Antrim Wind Energy then has the option of appealing the SEC’s decision to the N.H. Supreme Court, according to Mike Iacopino, the counsel to the Site Evaluation Committee.
Antrim Wind Energy has argued that the SEC should reverse its original decision. According to their request for rehearing or reversal of decision, Antrim Wind Energy argues that the SEC applied more stringent value on viewshed than it has in the past in comparable sites, and that the committee put a disproportionate amount of weight on a small percentage of the town who argued for view impacts.
The SEC could, in light of efforts made by Antrim Wind Energy to mitigate view impacts, decide to rehear the application, taking into account these changes. Should the SEC decide to rehear the case, it will likely be a process as long as the original hearing, said Iacopino.
“It took a long time to get to the original decision,” Iacopino said. “And it would likely be a long process again, as there would be a lot to go back through, as a practical matter. It would not be a short process, if for no other reason than to coordinate the subcommittee schedules.”
Peter Roth, counsel for the public in this case, submitted an objection to the motion for rehearing. Roth argued that the subcommittee didn’t depart from existing standards, but evaluated Antrim on a case-by-case basis, as is required.
If the SEC decides to rehear the application, and it once again is voted down, Antrim Wind Energy can then pursue an appeal through the Supreme Court. Should the Site Evaluation Committee reverse its decision following a rehearing, then objectors to the project have an equal right to oppose the decision, first by filing for a rehearing by the SEC, and then, failing that, an appeal process through the state Supreme Court.
Several local residents have submitted letters in support of the SEC’s original decision, asking that they uphold it Wednesday and not grant a rehearing. In a letter submitted on June 13, Martha Osler, a homeowner on Gregg Lake, said that the mitigation efforts made by Antrim Wind since the rejection of their application simply aren’t enough, in her opinion.
“I find the plan to reduce the number of turbines from 10 to nine, and to offer the town $40,000 for improvements to Gregg Lake, to be a salve for a project that should not be built in the first place,” Osler wrote. “Neither of these mitigations does anything to change the consequences that this project will have on abutting neighbors and town, to the view-shed and to the habitat corridor.”
Over 30 Green Alliance affiliated businesses throughout New Hampshire submitted a form letter in support of the project.
Representatives of ClimateCounts.org wrote in a June 11 letter, “In an ideal world, we could achieve our transition to renewable energy without compromising our pristine landscapes, and without upsetting the ecosystems on which members of the wildlife population are dependent. The fact remains, however, that in the face of a looming man-made crisis, we will be required to make difficult decisions that benefit the greater good at the risk of compromising the noble few.”
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