LANCASTER – The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee will hold a pre-hearing conference in Lancaster Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at the Northern Region Office as it prepares to hold a full hearing on Granite Reliable Power’s request to widen the access road leading to its wind turbines on Mount Kelsey.
The SEC recessed its April 7 public hearing in Littleton on Granite Reliable Power’s request for an expedited decision allowing it to do the work this spring. Counsel for the Public Peter Roth, a senior assistant attorney general, objected to the expedited request, arguing the conditions contained in Granite Reliable Power’s certificate of site and facility were carefully crafted.
“Changing the conditions that were imposed to protect that habitat and promote its recovery from the intrusion by the project should not be allowed by the committee without a compelling show of evidence that the changes will not further harm the environment,” he wrote.
Roth and Coos County Commissioner Rich Samson also objected to the hearing being held in Littleton, arguing the proceedings should be held in Coos County where the wind farm is located in the unincorporated places of Millsfield and Dixville.
The prehearing conference will allow the parties to discuss offers of settlement, identify the issues, stipulate or admit issues of fact or proof, set limits on the number of witnesses, discuss changes to standard procedures and scheduling. A date for the contested hearing itself will be set by SEC Chairman Tom Burack after the prehearing conference.
Under a high elevation mitigation settlement reached with N.H. Fish and Game and the Appalachian Mountain Club, Granite Reliable Power agreed that after the 33-wind turbines were installed, the high elevation access road would be re-vegetated and the road width limited to 12 feet.
Last August, however, GRP said a bearing failure on one of the turbines on Mount Kelsey required unscheduled maintenance and the company had to widen the access road in places to get equipment to the site to repair the turbine. GRP said it is apparent the Mount Kelsey turbines will require periodic maintenance, which requires a wider roadbed than 12 feet.
GRP is asking to amend the certificate to change the road width from 12 feet to 16 feet. Working with the AMC and N.H. Fish and Game, Granite Reliable Power is proposing to re-vegetate and plan trees in other areas of the wind farm property. Both the AMC and Fish and Game have agreed to the changes.
In his motion, Roth said it is unclear why a single incident “requires a wholesale roll back of the condition. Presumably the unusual nature of the event indicates it should not soon repeat itself.” He said alternatives to the permanent widening should be presented.
Lisa Linowes of the Windaction Group said her group believes the revegetation plan included with Granite Reliable Power’s motion do not provide specific details. She is seeking intervenor status.
In response to Roth, Granite Reliable Power said the proposed amendment would alter only a single phase in the high elevation mitigation agreement and leaves the other 99 percent of the certificate untouched.
The company said there were discussions during the permitting process that the road might have to be widened to allow necessary repair work. In hindsight, Granite Reliable Power said it has discovered the turbines require greater and more frequent maintenance than originally thought. It said the company can continue to revegetate every time cranes are required or by approving the amendment “implement better environmental practices which better serve the public interest.”
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