August 25, 2013
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Opinions, Rhode Island, Vermont

New England wind turbine projects face pushback

N.E. wind turbine projects face pushback | By John Kostrzewa | Providence Journal | August 25, 2013 |

Plymouth, N.H. – Nobody paid much attention when the stems went up on the ridge line above this college town in the Lakes Region here. And most people had little to say when the wind blades were installed last year and then started to spin.

But this summer, I was surprised when I drove through the area and saw all the lawn signs that had sprouted with the words “I’m Not a Fan” or “Not green Not clean Not cheap”

The signs are part of an organized campaign by NH Wind Watch, a nonprofit group formed to oppose the wind turbine farm in Groton, near Plymouth State University, and several others proposed on ridges in small, surrounding towns.

The opponents argue they don’t like the 400-foot turbines because they spoil the pristine view, ship electricity out of state, were approved by a new state panel in Concord, hurt tourism and property values, don’t create many permanent jobs, and were built with a federal subsidy granted to a company based in Spain. They also say the roads built for the flatbed trucks to deliver the turbines and blades have caused erosion that could affect the streams that feed Newfound Lake.

“We wind up incurring all of the pain associated with these projects and we don’t get the benefits of them,” said Peter Silbermann, a director of NH Wind Watch.

The litany of complaints seems to be indicative of the pushback against wind power proposals across the region. After many early turbine projects were embraced, or ignored, they now have become objects of scorn since they have started spinning.

There have been similar stories about strong opposition to land-based turbines in upstate New York and Vermont. Locally, the failed Portsmouth wind turbine has raised concerns about the financial risk and the proposed Deepwater Wind project off Rhode Island’s coast has brought out many opponents who question the cost of the power, the few permanent jobs and the impact on ocean views.

The issues raised seem to set up the classic dispute between local, short-term interests and global, long-term goals.

I think wind power developers are under attack because they and their advocates have failed to make the clear, convincing argument that first gave life to their industry – that wind power cuts the U.S.’s reliance on foreign-owned oil and reduces the burning of fossil fuel that causes global warming that threatens the planet. Wind power also creates a stable source and cost of power, reducing the price volatility of other sources. And it takes advantage of a local resource – wind – that can be part of a growing, future economy.

Until the developers convince their neighbors of those arguments, they are going to have a tough slog that threatens wind power expansion.

In fact, the company that built the wind farm in the small town of Groton, just outside Plymouth, plans an array of another 37 wind towers on 6,000 acres leased from landowners in nearby Alexandria, Grafton and Danbury.

But the flare up of over the Groton wind farm and the changing environment for wind power in New Hampshire is apparently one reason the plans have been delayed. Ed Cherian Jr., director of New England Development at Iberdrola Renewables, the developer, said there is “support from a silent majority” for the project. He said the planning process is ongoing, but the application to the state site valuation board has yet to be filed.

Iberdrola Renewables, a unit of the energy giant based in Spain, defends the 24 turbines already operating on Tenney and Fletcher Mountains in Groton as good for the local economy and its residents.

Iberdrola said it awarded $1 million in contracts to New Hampshire companies for engineering, geotechnical services, surveying, environmental studies and mapping for the 48 megawatt, $120 million wind farm. The project created 150 construction jobs and cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 200 million pounds, the company said. The power is sold to NSTAR for distribution in the Boston area.

The project on private timberland was approved by the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, a new state board that was set up after a state law was passed that required that 16 percent of the state’s energy production come from renewable sources, such as wind power. And Iberdrola said it held numerous public hearings and community meetings, including a gathering in a Plymouth State auditorium in 2010 that attracted about 100 people.

Iberdrola also signed a 15-year agreement with Groton’s selectmen to pay the town $528,000 in the first year, with subsequent annual payments in future years.

All that has not persuaded Scott Piehler, an Alexandria resident. He said in a letter to a local newspaper that the wind farms are destroying the beauty and character of the region. He said his 18-year-old daughter loves the area and plans to get married there, but he wonders if the wind turbines will spoil her view of the place where she grew up.

The wind power developers may already have lost the argument to some local property owners, such as Piehler. But they better concentrate on convincing his daughter and others of the value of wind turbines.

Otherwise, there won’t be much of an industry in anybody’s future.

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