DUMMER – Granite Reliable Power’s request to be allowed to permanently widen sections of the access road to its wind turbines on Mt. Kelsey will be decided by the newly reconstituted N.H. Site Evaluation Committee.
Granite Reliable Power filed a request in March to amend one of the conditions in its certificate of site for its 33-turbine wind farm.
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.
But a year ago, GRP said one of the turbines on Mt. Kelsey needed unscheduled maintenance and the repair required use of a crane. The road had to be widened and GRP said it believes periodic maintenance will be required. Rather then repeatedly tear up and re-vegetate the road, GRP asked it be allowed to keep the road width at 16 feet. In exchange, GRP said it would re-do re-vegetation at alternative locations that would provide similar or greater benefits.
N.H. Fish and Game Department and the Appalachian Mountain Club, signers to the original settlement, have agreed to the modified plan, which calls for re-vegetating gravel surfaces at turbine pad area and other locations. The AMC asked that straw mulch be used instead of grass plantings to avoid creating habitat for mice that in turn encourage coyotes and other predators that prey on American martens.
In testimony filed in the case, Dr. Kenneth Kimball, director of research for the AMC, said ideally the organization would like the road to remain 12 feet wide. But Kimball said the AMC would rather leave the road widths than repeatedly disrupt the roadside vegetation, creating rodent habitat that could attract additional predators.
Both the Wind-Action Group and Senior Assistant N.H. Attorney General Peter Roth, who represents the public in proceedings, however, have raised concerns about GRP’s request to modify the agreement.
A consultant, hired by Roth at GRP’s expense, said the wind project “is having a significant adverse impact upon the natural environmental on Mt. Kelsey.”
Dr. C. William Kilpatrick, a University of Vermont biology professor, said the loss of habitat, the creation of five miles of edge habitat, year-around maintenance of a road, and sound have had substantial adverse impacts on two threatened species – the American marten and Bicknell’s thrust. Kilpatrick said maintaining roads at a width of 16 feet rather than 12 feet is a loss of about 1.28 acres. He said the proposed restoration plan only addresses the loss of habitat.
A site visit was held earlier this month for parties and intervenors but the visit was closed to the press. Last week, Brookfield Renewable Energy Group Vice President Todd Wynn conducted a tour for the press. Wynn noted that Brookfield, which is the major owner of GRP, was not the developer of the project. He said Noble Environmental Power negotiated the original high elevation mitigation settlement. Wynn said Brookfield feels the revised proposal meets the intention of the settlement.
The original procedural order called for the SEC to hold a full adjudicative hearing on GRP’s motion on Oct. 20. But the site visit has pushed the schedule back and a new date has not been released. When the SEC does meet, it will be markedly different than the body that approved the project back in 2009.
In the last session, the legislature passed a bill that reduced the size of the SEC from 15 members to nine. The legislation trimmed the number of state agencies on the committee from eight to four. The SEC will now have representatives from the Departments of Transportation, Resources and Economic Development, Environmental Services, Cultural Resources, and the three Public Utilities Commissioners. The governor selects two public members-at-large, one of who must be a member of the N.H. Bar Association as well as an alternate member. Gov. Maggie Hassan last week selected Republican Senator Bob Odell to serve a four-year term and Rep. Amanda Merrill to serve a two-year term as alternate. She has yet to appoint an attorney but the committee now has a quorum.
“The new makeup of the Site Evaluation Committee helps ensure that the siting process for new energy projects includes the views of local communities and protects what makes our state special. Bob Odell and Amanda Merrill are experienced, well-respected public servants whose temperament and commitment to fairness will be assets as we pursue an energy strategy that will reduce costs and pollution, create jobs and improve reliability and diversity while protecting the natural resources that define us as a state.” Hassan said in an e-mail.