BRETTON WOODS – Tensions among the Coos County commissioners were again on display at the commission’s monthly meeting last week.
Commissioners Paul Grenier and Tom Brady clashed with Commissioner Rick Samson on the decommissioning fund for the Granite Reliable Power wind farm and the nomination of new members to the Coos planning board.
Two months ago, Samson presented the commission with a written list of questions about the decommissioning agreement and escrow account for the 33-turbine wind park. The Coos delegation earlier this month asked County Attorney Jonathan Frizzell to respond to the questions for the August commission meeting.
Frizzell provided Samson with a seven page written response as well as copies of the decommissioning agreement, estimates of decommissioning costs, and the decommissioning fund agreement. The attorney also delivered a verbal report on the issue.
Frizzell prefaced his remarks by noting the issue is a complex one. He said his firm, Waystack & King, was not involved in any aspect of negotiating the decommissioning agreement dated April 10, 2009. His firm was hired two years later to help with the financial aspects of the decommissioning agreement, specifically the fund escrow agreement.
Decommissioning agreements are frequently required for wind farms to cover the cost of removing the turbines and towers and restoring the site should the wind farm discontinue operations.
Frizzell said the county commissioners accepted the estimate of $844,033 as the total net cost of decommissioning the wind park. He explained that the net cost takes into consideration the salvage and scrap value of the various components.
One of Samson’s questions asked if $844,033 was enough considering the scope and size of the project. Frizzell responded he believes it is sufficient based on the estimates done the firm LVI Services, which was hired by GRP. The agreement also requires the parties to revise the decommissioning cost after the fifth year to account for inflation and fluctuations in the cost involved.
While the decommissioning agreement was in place before operation of the wind park got underway, Frizzell said the decommissioning fund escrow agreement was before the commission Wednesday for final approval. Frizzell said the sale of the wind park from Noble Environmental to Brookfield delayed it. He said it was further delayed over negotiations over how the financial requirement would be achieved. GRP wanted to be allowed to provide a letter of credit from a bank for the amount. Frizzell said he opposed the proposal and recommended the commission require an actual bank account be created. The final agreement requires Brookfield to make ten annual payments of $84,403 plus provide a letter of credit for the balance until the fund reaches the full amount.
Samson asked what would happen if Brookfield fails to make the payments or maintain the letter of credit as required by the agreement. Frizzell said Brookfield’s lenders would be notified they had 30 days to make the payment or force Brookfield to pay. Eventually, the county could sue in Superior Court to place a lien on any of Brookfield’s assets.
Brookfield made its first payment in December and the escrow account has been set up at First Colebrook Bank. But Frizzell said the funds have not been deposited in the bank because the escrow agreement has not been full executed and finalized. He said Brookfield would like to have the agreement signed by all three commissioners and Samson had requested more time to review the agreement before making a decision. Samson apologized for taking so much time but said he still believes the amount of money is nowhere near sufficient to decommission the wind park.
Frizzell said the agreement would be legally binding with the approval of a majority of the commission and Grenier and Brady voted to approve it. Brady said he felt the commission had spent enough money having Frizzell respond to Samson’s questions. The chair said he believes Samson just wants to keep the issue going and he moved to take up the rest of the agenda.
The three commissioners also clashed over appointments to the Coos Planning Board. Earlier this month, the Coos delegation had failed to approve the commission’s re-nomination of Jonathan Frizzell and Fred King, both of Colebrook, as regular members and Scott Rineer of Errol, James Brady of Jefferson, and Lindsey Gray of Pittsburg as alternate members.
Grenier moved the commission nominate Fred King and Scott Rineer as voting members and Tom McCue of Berlin and Mark Frank of Lancaster as alternates.
Grenier noted Samson had previously complained the board membership was not geographically distributed across the county with four members from the Colebrook area. Grenier said six members of the board come from Samson’s district, two come from Brady’s district, and one comes from his district. He said the new nominates would provide more geographical balance.
Samson complained that Rineer works for Wagner Woodlands, which owns extensive woodlands in the unincorporated places and said he is concerned there may be future conflicts of interest. He said he feels there should be a resident of the unincorporated place of Millsfield on the board, given the issues with the wind park there.
Grenier charged Samson was trying to push the commission to make a political decision to appoint someone from an unincorporated place. He said the commission is trying to strike a balance on the board. Grenier said the commission has always voted for members based on qualifications and no unincorporated place is guaranteed a designated seat on the board.
Grenier and Brady approved the motion to approve the slate put forth by Grenier. The nominations will now go to the delegation for approval. Delegation Chairman Robert Theberge said the delegation will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 27 at 10 a.m. at the North Country Resource Center in Lancaster to act on the nominations before the Coos planning board meets later that day at 6 p.m. at the same location.
There is still an opening on the planning board for an alternate.
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