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Fire marshal OKs Groton Wind operations after deeming facility safe

GROTON – The state Fire Marshal’s Office, which asked the state to halt operations at the Groton Wind facility last fall because of building and safety code violations, issued a report this week saying the plant’s owners have met the state’s requirements and all the needed permits have been issued.

The $120 million, 48-megawatt, 24-turbine wind-energy plant, which the state’s Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) threatened to close on Nov. 4, has now satisfied the fire marshal, the Attorney General’s Office and several others.

At least one intervenor still has complaints, and the SEC has more investigative and administrative work to do, so the investigation is not complete, said Michael Iacopino, the SEC’s attorney.

But the owners of Groton Wind, LLC – Iberdrola Renewables of Spain and Portland, Ore. – have fulfilled the requirements of an April compliance agreement with the Fire Marshal’s Office, which was the chief complainant.

“The applicant has completed all of the requirements of the compliance agreement to the satisfaction of the fire marshal. Occupancy permits for the (Operations and Maintenance) building and each of the 24 towers were delivered to the site on Sept. 26,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Ann M. Rice and attorney Dianne Martin of the state’s Transportation and Construction Bureau in a letter sent Monday to the SEC.

Art Sasse, director of communications and brand for Iberdrola Renewables, said his company has been busy, making sure it meets all the state’s requirements.

“Public safety is our number-one priority at every single wind farm and solar plant that we operate and we’ve worked very hard to meet the rigorous safety standards at the state and local level, to assure the Groton community that we take our role as a responsible business partner and a good neighbor very sincerely,” Sasse said Thursday.

Fire marshal investigators had said the plant did not have all the required state permits when it went online in December 2012. In August 2013, Ronald D. Anstey, section chief and investigator with the state Fire Marshal’s Office, found that the plant’s owners did not file fire code and safety code plans with the fire marshal, failed to provide required fire suppression at the turbines, and had not obtained proper approval from state agencies for its design and construction of the plant and its Operations and Maintenance building, which the company moved across the street from its originally stipulated location.

In its initial responses to the fire marshal’s claims, Iberdrola officials said they had obtained the proper permits through the Department of Environmental Services, and claimed they had acted lawfully.

But the company later agreed to the compliance agreement with the Fire Marshal’s Office, working to properly obtain the required permits for the wind turbines and for the Operations and Maintenance building,

The compliance agreement required improved fire suppression systems in the turbine’s nacelles, and improved access to the turbines in winter months. The state also required improved lightning protection, and numerous other building and tower improvements in order to meet state codes.

Those complaints have been satisfied, as have most of the others.

In July, the company came to a settlement with the Attorney General’s Office, which had been acting on behalf of the public and sought a penalty to the company for improper actions during construction. The settlement included an order to the plant owners to give $160,000 to a project aimed at improving and enhancing the Livermore Falls area in Campton, Holderness and Plymouth.

But intervenor Mark Watson of Groton filed a letter Sept. 8 with the SEC saying his concerns are not satisfied. He is expecting to be heard by the SEC in the coming weeks, he said.

“The issues are still there to me,” said Watson, who lives within two miles of the plant’s turbines at 35 Stone Glade Lane. “The fire marshal was concerned about safety, but the road issues are still there; the road gradients are bad. And the company should be held to its original building plans. That O and M building should not be where it is.”