As the fight heats up over the proposed road widening in the Coos wind park, a pre-hearing conference has been scheduled in Lancaster to clarify the issues and discuss possible terms of a settlement.
The proceeding by the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the northern region office of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development.
It comes less than two months after Brookfield Renewable Power, majority owner of the 33-turbine Granite Reliable Power (GRP) wind park, filed an application with SEC to amend its siting certificate and widen the park’s access roads in sensitive high-elevation areas.
On April 7 in Littleton, SEC met for a hearing on the application, but canceled it after declaring it a contested case.
Its decision was based on a March 27 objection by Peter Roth, counsel for the public with the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, who stated Brookfield’s request lacks evidence that road widening is needed and is “contrary to the representation and assurances made by the current ownership in 2011.”
Roth also said the amendment “seeks to undermine a key element of a carefully crafted set of conditions, without which the project would likely have not been approved.”
In July 2009, SEC approved, with the conditions, a citing certificate for the 99-megawatt-capacity wind park that stretches along 15 miles of Coos ridge line in Dixville, Erving’s Location, Millsfield, Odell and Dummer, including over Mt. Kelsey.
The park went into operation in late 2011.
In August 2013, one of the turbines on Mt Kelsey required unscheduled maintenance because of a bearing failure and that failure required the transport of crane components near the turbine that in turn required widening the access road, Brookfield told SEC.
On March 12, citing the turbine failure, the company filed a motion to widen the access roads in the high-elevation areas to accommodate heavy equipment and stated “it is now apparent that the Mt. Kelsey turbines will require periodic maintenance and this maintenance necessitates a roadway wider than 12 feet.”
Roth, however, states it is not clear why a “singular incident” of a turbine failure “requires a wholesale rollback of the condition.”
He also asked SEC to not allow changing the conditions of the agreement without compelling evidence that any changes will not further harm the high-elevation habitat.
The wind park, which first became contested in 2009 after concerns about impacts to high-elevation tree and wildlife species, was approved only after a high-elevation mitigation settlement agreement was reached between GRP and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game (NHFG).
In his objection, Roth states the reason for the conditions in the agreement is in particular because of Mt. Kelsey, which encompasses “high-elevation ecosystems of particularly high quality” that support older growth spruce fir forest, which is home to the pine marten, Bicknell’s thrush and Canada lynx, he wrote.
A recent pine marten study shows higher marten predation by canine predators such as fox and coyotes that are gaining access to the high-elevation areas by way of the access roads.
Roth said the Mt. Kelsey high areas are “among the last remaining areas of contiguous high-elevation spruce fir forest in New Hampshire” and widened roads would have an “unreasonable adverse impact” on them.
He also said SEC’s 2009 decision was approved by the N.H. Supreme Court and is binding on all the parties.
On April 7, the Industrial Wind Action Group filed a motion to intervene.
Like Roth, the New Hampshire-based group cites concerns about changes to the high-elevation agreement and states that Brookfield’s amended re-vegetation plans “do not provide specific details as to the extent of new impacts.”
The group argues the company does not provide specifics as to why its revisions would have similar or greater benefits compared to the re-vegetation requirements in the original plan.