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CONCORD – After an hour-long public hearing, the Executive Council voted 4-1 to approve $4.1 million in financing for Jericho Power LLC, a five-turbine wind farm project in Berlin.
About a half-dozen people spoke in opposition, criticizing the fact that the project will take up so much of the $13 million in federal energy bonds allocated to the state as part of the 2009 stimulus package.
Manchester used about $1 million for energy upgrades to schools. But Jack Donovan, Business Finance Authority executive director, said it is very difficult to meet all the federal requirements; he doubts any more of the money will be used.
The only councilor to vote against the bonding was District 3 Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, who said the project would be the most expensive per-megawatt wind farm in the New England.
“There is an awful lot of taxpayer money involved in this,” he said of the project on Jericho Mountain, which is expected to produce a maximum of 14 megawatts of power. “It makes no financial sense whatsoever.”
The council voted 4-1 about a year ago to approve a $1 million grant for the plan, which has the backing of Berlin’s elected officials.
Road construction for the $35 million project has already begun. Gordon Deane is president of Palmer Management Corp. of Cohasset Mass., which is to build and manage the project. He said he hopes to finalize an agreement with General Electric for the five wind turbines next week.
NH Electric Cooperative will use 70 percent of the electricity; the remaining power will be sold to Reading, Mass. local government.
Neither the state nor the Business Finance Authority, which serves as a conduit for the funds, are liable for the bonds if the company fails to repay them.
Louise Bartow of Fairhaven, Mass., where Deane’s company also constructed a small wind farm, said the promises made before the municipal project was approved were not kept.
She said the turbines’ operations are curtailed to daytime use because the noise at night draws numerous complaints. “It’s not all rainbows and ponies,” Bartow said.
Others questioned if Berlin had done sufficient studies and investigation before approving the project and entering into an agreement with the company for payments in lieu of taxes and a decommissioning fund.
But Donovan said “it’s arrogant to look at the local process and say it was not done properly.”
He said the city hired an outside attorney to help negotiate the agreement.
After the meeting, Lori Lerner, president of NHWindWatch, said the group did not attend the hearing to oppose the project but wanted to raise some concerns.
“If the people of the city of Berlin want this,” Lerner said, “I am a believer in local control and local support.”
The Berlin Zoning Board has approved the project, which does not need Site Evaluation Committee approval because it is considered a small generating facility.
The facility will be adjacent to Jericho Mountain State Park, which includes ATV and snowmobile trails as well as other facilities.
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