The North Country is on its way to getting a 5-turbine, 14-megawatt wind farm on a ridge called Jericho Mountain to the West of Berlin.
The city of Berlin is working with a private developer to build what’s been termed a “community” wind farm, because of its small size. Despite the objections of wind opponents, the executive council approved the final piece of the project’s financing puzzle Wednesday.
Executive Councilors had to decide vote on $4.1 million dollars in Business Finance Authority bonds that would help pay for the $35 million dollar wind-farm. Developers would have to pay off the bonds, but over the life of the loan they would get around $900,000 dollars in federal subsidies to help with that.
Approval won’t cost any state dollars, but the vote still brought out opponents.
“First of all, federal tax dollars are our money. That does come out of our pockets as well, so even if it doesn’t cost the state of New Hampshire something, it’s going to cost us something,” Cindy Kudlick from Grafton told the councilors.
This project is so small that it doesn’t meet the threshold of needing to be approved by the state’s energy regulators.
Instead it’s up to the host community to decide if it wants it. Berlin’s zoning and planning boards approved the project earlier this year, and then later voted to expand it from three to five turbines. The mayor is in favor as well.
But the opponents at the executive council meeting, largely from below the notches, questioned if the town knew what it was getting.
“There needs to be a tremendous amount of due diligence on the part of the siting board,” said Lori Learner, President of New Hampshire Wind Watch. She told councilors she didn’t think the town had done that due diligence.
“Given the lack of benefit this project brings to the state of New Hampshire, I recommend the bond be denied,” she said.
Nobody from Berlin was on hand to defend the project, so Jack Donovan, Executive Director of the Business Finance Authority, stepped in to fill that role.
“I think frankly it’s arrogant for people to look at the local process… the assumption is Berlin, they can’t do the thing themselves properly,” he said, “I think that’s the assumption we’re hearing. ‘We know better.’”
He pushed back against the argument that because the wind farm will result in only the equivalent of around three full-time jobs that the project won’t have local benefits.
“Tax base. That is a big part of economic development, particularly in a community like Berlin where you’ve got tax rates approaching 4 percent,” Donovan stressed.
Ultimately, the council voted 4 to 1 to approve the bonds. Republican Chris Sununu Newfields was the lone dissenter. His fellow Republican Joe Kenney, who represents the North Country and is a declared a wind opponent, held his nose for the vote. He said the Mayor had told him Berlin wants the project.
“Ok if you want the lemon, you’ve got the lemon, I’ll vote for it,” Kenney said.
The project has already received a $1 million dollar grant from the state’s Renewable Energy Fund, and construction started last year on the roads and foundations for the turbines, because the developer was racing to capture a federal tax credit which expired last December.
The developer, Gordon Deanne of the Massachusetts based Palmer Capital, says that 70 percent of power will be sold to the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative and 30 percent to a small utility in Massachusetts.
Deanne was somewhat baffled by the sudden mobilization of wind opponents against the project. He says they’ve had numerous public hearings in Berlin, and even came to ask the state’s energy siting authority, the Site Evaluation Committee, if they wanted to review the project.
“Quite honestly, I wish the opposition had shown up earlier so they could have been refuted,” he said after the hearing, “We were totally blind-sided on this,”
This small project is likely to be the only wind energy the state sees built for a while. One developer pulled the plug on a large-scale project near Newfound Lake earlier this year. Another is now asking a judge to intervene in Alexandria, where the select board wouldn’t even let them erect a tower to study the wind potential.
Deanne says he’ll order the turbines sometime in the coming weeks, and he expects the project to be online this time next year.