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Spanish wind company Iberdrola pulls out of Newfound area project

ALEXANDRIA – Spanish wind-energy giant Iberdrola Renewables said Tuesday it is abandoning efforts to build the Wild Meadows wind farm in the Newfound Lake/Cardigan Mountain area.

“While we continue to make significant progress resolving various outstanding issues at our Groton wind farm, our experience with that situation combined with the current political and regulatory climate in New Hampshire leave us no choice but to end our efforts to develop and invest $150 million at the potential Wild Meadows wind farm,” Art Sasse, director of communications and brand for Iberdrola Renewables, said in a statement released to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Iberdrola’s Groton Wind LLC, a 48-megawatt, 24-turbine wind farm which went online in December 2012, has been the subject of ongoing hearings by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee. The state fire marshal and other state agencies have said changes were made to the project without their consent or review.

Acting on those complaints, the SEC – the permitting authority for large energy projects in the state – threatened last fall to pull the plant’s operating certificate, granted in 2011.

Iberdrola officials initially said they built the plant in accordance with SEC specifications, but have since been complying with state officials with plant and turbine improvements.

Meanwhile, legislation passed last year calls for a study to see if the state’s siting guidelines for such power plants are sufficient.

Iberdrola officials began public hearings in 2012 on the Wild Meadows plant, a 75.9-megawatt, 23-turbine wind farm originally planned for the towns of Grafton, Alexandria and Danbury, but later confined to Alexandria and Danbury.

Company officials said the plant would have produced enough energy to power about 30,000 average homes a year – up to 90,000 homes per year at peak production.

The plant would have provided large financial benefits to taxpayers in both towns, and would have created jobs, the company said.

Iberdrola officials entered into contracts last fall with Massachusetts energy buyers for the power produced from Wild Meadows, but said Granite Staters would benefit from the plant as the state is part of the regional power grid.

The company quickly found strong opposition to the plant, particularly from a group of area residents who came to be called New Hampshire Wind Watch. Wind Watch members said the 492-foot turbines above the tree lines of Newfound Lake would ruin property values and wreck the area’s scenic vistas and tourism economy.

Later, the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests came out in opposition, saying Wild Meadows would decrease the views and the hiking experience at Mount Cardigan.

Iberdrola officials expressed regret that the state will never enjoy the benefits Wild Meadows would have brought.

“We’re sorry that the vast majority in New Hampshire who want the benefits of clean affordable power and millions of dollars in local economic development won’t get to see that occur anytime soon. We look forward to trying to work with state and local officials to return New Hampshire to a place that truly wants to bring renewable energy projects into the state again,” Sasse said.

Wind Watch members were pleased at the news.

“We’re thrilled Iberdrola has ended its plans for Wild Meadows,” said Wind Watch President Lori Lerner of Alexandria. “Residents of the towns where the project was to be located and those living in the surrounding communities have consistently and overwhelmingly opposed the towers.”