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Iberdrola abandons Wild Meadows wind farm, raising questions about future of wind power in N.H.

A Spanish company has abandoned plans to construct a controversial 23-turbine wind farm in the Danbury area, and the decision is raising questions about the renewable resource’s future in New Hampshire.

Iberdrola Renewables made the announcement Tuesday that it would drop its proposal to develop the 75.9-megawatt Wild Meadows wind farm.

“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,” said company spokesperson Art Sasse in an emailed statement. The company didn’t comment further than the two-paragraph statement.

Ibredrola owns two of the three wind farms already in operation in New Hampshire: the 24-megawatt, 12-turbine Lempster Wind Power Project and the 24-turbine Groton Wind farm. The latter has run into issues over its fire suppression system with the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, which is in charge of permitting large-scale energy projects.

The Wild Meadows project had faced opposition from local residents and some environmental groups.

“We are relieved to hear the developer has dropped its plans,” said Appalachian Mountain Club Vice President for Conservation Susan Arnold in a written statement. “While we recognize that renewable energy needs to be part of the state’s energy mix, this project as proposed would have been incompatible with the surrounding landscape, marred scenic views and negatively impacted a region valued for outdoor recreation and spiritual renewal.”

Ibradola’s decision to desert its proposal due to the political climate was met with divided response from other companies seeking to develop their own wind projects in the state.

EDP Renewables North America, looking into developing a 50-megawatt wind farm of about 25 turbines in the Groton area, is still committed to bringing clean energy to the state, said company spokesman Adam Rentz.

“We believe that New Hampshire is an extremely viable state,” Rentz said. The company recognizes the permitting process can be a long one, he said, and that each state’s requirements are unique.

“With that in mind, you have to temper your expectations . . . we have to make sure we do it right early on because we’re going to be with everyone for a long time,” he said. “We’re sticking the course in New Hampshire.”

Eolian Renewable Energy CEO Jack Kenworthy said he shares Ibredrola’s concerns.

“There have been several attempts in recent legislation to pass moratoria on wind energy in the state, either explicitly or de facto,” he wrote in an email. “Although those have not come to pass, there is continued pressure for the wind industry and wind supporters to defend against new legislation that would increase uncertainty, time and cost to permit wind energy facilities.”

In 2013, the Site Evaluation Committee rejected Eolian’s application to develop its proposed 30-megawatt Antrim wind farm due to aesthetic impacts. Kenworthy said he supports constructive changes to the state’s permitting process that “provide for a fair and timely permitting process.”

“Utility-scale terrestrial wind faces several challenges in New Hampshire,” according to a draft state energy policy released May 1 and put together by Navigant Consulting under the direction of the New Hampshire Legislature.

One challenge, tied to national policy, is the expiration of the production tax credit earlier this year. But perhaps the most notable, the report said, are the challenges related to the siting of wind projects.

“Areas with the most promising wind resources may be undesirable because of their proximity to residences, the visual impact . . . and the noise they generate,” the report states.

Those are issues the state Legislature is trying to tackle this session, and lawmakers said it is all about balancing the benefits of wind power with the well-being of residents.

During a committee of conference Tuesday, lawmakers worked out final language on a bill that would give the Site Evaluation Committee guidelines to consider when permitting large-scale wind projects. They include the project’s visual impacts, health and safety impacts, sound impacts, and its effect on the environment, among others. The bill will appear on the House and Senate floors for final votes next week.

Rep. William Baber, a Dover Democrat who participated in the bill’s committee of conference, said he hopes the legislation would benefit wind farm developers by providing stability “so they have some assurance that it’s not just left to arbitrary decision-making process.”

It is unfair to say the state’s political climate is not receptive to wind energy, he said.

“I think the Legislature has sent a strong message that renewables are an important part of our future and wind is actually one of the more economical and environmentally friendly options,” he said. “That doesn’t mean siting of the wind farms should be done without thoughtful oversight.”

Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who also sat on the committee of conference, said it is important to protect residents who live in close proximity to wind turbines from the negative aspects, such as shadow flicker, noise and decline in property values. He said wind developers in the state need to do a better job of mitigating those factors.

Wind “is a tiny amount of our overall power needs that is generating huge controversies in the areas where developers want to locate them,” Bradley said. “While I am not saying we shouldn’t be developing wind, there needs to be that balance.”