CONCORD – The state won’t be taking a second look at a rejected wind project proposed in Antrim.
The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee stood by its January decision that denied Antrim Wind Energy’s proposal for a 30 megawatt wind farm during a hearing Wednesday in Concord.
“We’re obviously disappointed,” said Jack Kenworthy, the CEO of Eolian Energy, Antrim Wind’s parent company. “We disagree again with the decision.”
Antrim Select Board Chair Gordon Webber, a supporter of the project since the beginning, said in a telephone interview that he disagreed with the SEC’s decision not to rehear Antrim Wind’s proposal.
“At this point I cannot speak for the board, because we haven’t had a chance to discuss it, but personally I’m disappointed,” Webber said. “I think the SEC made the wrong decision.”
The next step for Antrim Wind Energy – if they still wish to pursue a project on Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain – will be to appeal the SEC decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Webber noted that the Select Board will have to discuss at future meetings whether the town will back the company’s suit, should they decide to appeal the decision.
Kenworthy said he does not yet know what Antrim Wind’s next step will be. The company will be taking a look at the situation in the light of the SEC’s decision before deciding whether it will be worth pursuing a court appeal.
“Coming in today, we had a reasonable expectation that they would take up a rehearing of the decision,” said Kenworthy. “Absent that decision, it’s not yet clear what options remain to us and whether an appeal is the right avenue for us. We’re going to take the time to contemplate what happened and what’s next.”
The SEC originally turned down Antrim Wind Energy’s proposed 10-turbine wind facility on Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain in January. The negative impact the turbines would have on the viewshed, particularly from scenic areas such as Gregg Lake and Willard Pond, were the basis of the ruling. Since that decision was reached, Antrim Wind has made efforts to lessen the view impacts in Antrim. The town has voted to accept an offer of $40,000 to mitigate the impact on the view from Gregg Lake, and Antrim Wind has also indicated a willingness to eliminate the turbine that would be closest to and most visible from Willard Pond. In addition to previously brokered conservation agreements, Antrim Wind also secured conservation rights to a 100-acre parcel on the Tuttle Hill ridge line, in the area surrounding some of the proposed turbines. The town will vote whether to accept the holding of these easements at Town Meeting in March moves forward.
After these efforts, Antrim Wind filed a request for a rehearing with the SEC at the beginning of June. In their filing, they argue that the SEC put a disproportionate emphasis on view impacts when compared to similar wind projects visible from scenic areas and state forests that did gain approval. Peter Roth, the counsel for the public in this case, filed an objection to Antrim Wind’s filing. Roth argued that the SEC is bound to consider each individual proposal on a case-by-case basis, and approval for one project does not necessarily indicate a precedence.
Kenworthy noted that he believes the argument put forth by Antrim Wind is still valid. “The focus of our argument was really that the town of Antrim has been supportive, how the aesthetic impact is less or no more than other approved projects, and we’ve gone further in mitigation than others have,” he said. “We still feel the committee has departed from prior decisions they’ve reached. But that’s the decision they’ve arrived at, so we have to understand what options we have left.”
Some Antrim residents, such as Kathryn Chisholm, wrote the SEC in support of Antrim Wind. “I am absolutely appalled that you chose to deny Antrim Wind Energy’s application solely on ‘aesthetic grounds,’” Chisholm wrote. “I urge the SEC to reconsider its ruling and allow the establishment of the wind farm in Antrim.”
Other residents took the opposing view, writing the SEC to request that the committee uphold its January ruling. In a letter to the SEC, Jeanne Baker, the president of the Gregg Lake Association, wrote that at a recent meeting of the association, the members were overwhelmingly in favor of not supporting Antrim Wind’s proposed project.
“The results of the voting were: five votes for the AWE wind farm, 23 votes against the AWE wind farm, and two abstentions. Each family was entitled to one vote,” Baker wrote. “The Gregg Lake Association therefore urges to let stand the earlier SEC decision and requests that the matter not be re-opened.”