The state’s fourth wind farm got the go-ahead yesterday as the Executive Council approved a $4 million bond to help finance the Berlin project, despite hearing an hour of public testimony that focused largely on concern surrounding industrial wind power.
Jericho Power LLC plans to erect five turbines atop Jericho Mountain for a 14-megawatt project. The city of Berlin has already approved the roughly $35 million project through a local planning and zoning process.
The meeting drew many attendees concerned about the project, pushback that surprised the president of the project’s development company.
Recently, wind power has become a contentious topic in the state. Earlier this year, Spain-based Iberdrola Renewables dropped its plans to build a 23-turbine, Wild Meadows wind farm in the Danbury area. The project faced public opposition from people who said the wind farm threatened wildlife habitats, water quality, tourism and aesthetics. Iberdrola – which owns two of the three wind farms already in operation in New Hampshire – blamed the withdrawal on the state’s “current political and regulatory climate.”
Yesterday, the Executive Council voted 4-1 to help finance the Jericho project using federally funded energy bonds that are administered by the state’s Business Finance Authority. Massachusetts-based Palmer Capital, which owns the Jericho wind project, can now move forward with construction plans, President Gordon Deane said.
“This particular project, while small in nature . . . has a lot of complexities to it,” said Councilor Joe Kenney, a Republican who represents Berlin and the North Country in District 1. He voted to approve the bond, he said, because the city has expressed its support.
“As a policy, I don’t support industrial wind farms,” Kenney said. “I don’t think they meet our long-term energy portfolio needs, but I am very mindful of local control.”
The decision followed about an hour of public testimony, including comments from several attendees who raised concerns about recent changes in the size and scope of the Jericho project, the project’s reliability and how the wind power would be used.
“I do not believe the appropriate due diligence has been completed,” said Lori Lerner, president of New Hampshire Wind Watch. She questioned the project’s economic benefit to the state, since she said it doesn’t create many long-term jobs, and she recommended the bond be denied.
Jericho Power was a smaller, two-turbine project and expanded to its current five-turbine proposal, which would generate enough electricity to power multiple municipal buildings or hundreds of homes. Roughly 70 percent of the wind power generated by the turbines will be purchased by the New Hampshire Electric Co-op for approximately 10 cents per kilowatt-hour over a 20-year purchase power agreement, Deane said. The rest of the power will be sent to Massachusetts.
A resident of the Bay State, where Palmer Capital has developed other wind projects, testified that the company’s turbines in her town have proved disruptive. The two industrial wind turbines in Fairhaven are “plagued with problems” and facing lawsuits, Louise Barteau said. In Fairhaven, the turbines are much closer to residences than the Berlin project, and the project’s opponents have lost the lawsuits, Deane said after the vote.
The fact that some of the Jericho wind power will go to Massachusetts was one of many worries New Hampshire resident Lisa Linowes raised during her testimony yesterday. “If this project were to go through the (Site Evaluation Committee) process, I can tell you today it would not withstand the rigors,” said Linowes, who is also the founder and executive director of Industrial Wind Action Group.
The state’s energy siting committee doesn’t have to consider the Jericho project because it isn’t large enough.
Jack Donovan, executive director of the Business Finance Authority, said nothing he could say would appease what he called the “anti-wind” people. The project will add to Berlin’s tax base, which is a driver of economic development, Donovan said. He criticized the notion Berlin isn’t capable of evaluating the project on its own.
“It’s arrogant for people to look at the local process in Berlin,” Donovan said. “The assumption is (Berlin) can’t do the thing themselves properly, that is the assumption we are hearing here.”
No one from Berlin testified at the public hearing yesterday.
The project hasn’t been controversial, said Berlin City Manager Jim Wheeler.
“It’s sited well. It’s not something that is across the lake, not close to residences,” Wheeler said. The turbines will be constructed roughly a mile from any residences, Deane said.
“It seems like we have a really good fit for the city’s development . . . that adds value and ultimately some tax revenue,” Wheeler said.
Before voting yesterday, councilors considered pushing the decision to the next meeting so they could evaluate information brought up during the public hearing. But Deane said the project’s financing could fall apart if the bond’s approval was delayed. The project has already received a $1 million grant from the state’s Renewable Energy Fund.
Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, a Republican who represents District 3, cast the only no vote. He said the project didn’t make financial sense. Executive Councilors Colin Van Ostern, Chris Pappas and Debora Pignatelli all voted yes.
“If we are not willing to support a renewable energy project like this – it’s a small one, it has widespread support within its community – I have very real concerns that it sends a chilling effect,” said Van Ostern, a Concord Democrat who represents District 2.
A 10-year state energy strategy released in September said wind power has significant potential in New Hampshire that is not fully utilized. The state has roughly 171 megawatts of current wind capacity, the report said. New Hampshire could support 2,100 megawatts more and nearly 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind resources, according to the report.
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