November 3, 2014
New Hampshire

Developers grapple with state’s rock-like resistance to wind

By Mark Del Franko | North American Windpower |

Unlike neighboring states, such as Vermont and Maine, New Hampshire has resisted the build-out of wind energy. There are three wind farms currently operating in the state totaling 171 MW of installed capacity: the 24 MW Lempster Wind Farm and 48 MW Groton Wind Farm, both owned and operated by Iberdrola Renewables, and the 99 MW Granite Reliable wind farm, owned and operated by Brookfield Renewable Energy. The wind farms were a result of the state’s 2007 adoption of a 24.8% by 2025 renewable portfolio standard (RPS).

As more wind farm proposals became more frequent, however, attitudes toward wind energy, in general, soured. Part of the reason is geography. Lacking the wide-open spaces of Iowa or Texas, prospective wind sites in the Granite State would be relegated to ridge lines, mountaintops or densely populated areas. Growing weary of wind development, local residents began to consider wind turbines a pock against the region’s natural beauty.

“As late as 2011, discussions around energy infrastructure flew under the radar,” explains Francis Pullaro, executive director at state advocacy group ReNew.

That was about the time when state residents began to hear about the Northern Pass, a proposed 187-mile transmission line that would bring hydropower from Canada through New Hampshire and, ultimately, into the New England Power Pool.

While proponents trumpeted the transmission line as a potential job creator, opponents feared the proposed project would destroy the state’s landscape, particularly the heavily forested thickets that characterize the state’s famed North Country.

Residents were so fired up that anti-wind groups, such as the New Hampshire Wind Watch, began to apply tremendous pressure on state legislators. In turn, the lawmakers began to introduce a series of legislative proposals calling for a moratorium against wind.

Keep in mind that the Northern Pass proposal has little to do with wind energy, says Pullaro, adding that it was the transmission line – not wind energy – that framed the state’s current attitude toward wind.

However, sensing an opportunity to shape the public policy debate, the anti-wind groups successfully tied wind energy together with the Northern Pass.

Although the moratorium was successfully thwarted during recent legislative sessions, “what came out of it was the need for more study of wind,” Pullaro says.

The entity most affected is New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), the state agency responsible for the siting and permitting of wind projects, which in July, reorganized to sort out policy going forward.

According to its website, the SEC said it will “adopt specific rules regarding the siting of energy facilities, including criteria for wind energy facilities.”

The SEC intends to begin the formal rulemaking process by the end of the year. In particular, the committee is seeking input from a broad array of stakeholders regarding specific language that will be used in the new rules. The SEC is required to adopt these rules by July 1, 2015.

“The SEC reform effort in 2012 arose to address the Northern Pass transmission project, although concern about wind projects may have motivated some legislators at that time,” Pullaro explains. “By 2014, wind issues were equally as important as the Northern Pass.”

The reorganization of the SEC was a major victory for the anti-wind faction, which continues to apply pressure.

One casualty is developer Iberdrola Renewables, which cancelled its planned 23-turbine project in central New Hampshire in May.

“The current political and regulatory climate in New Hampshire is sending wind companies into other states to invest,” explains Paul Copleman, a spokesperson for Iberdrola Renewables. “The vast majority of people in New Hampshire want the benefits of clean affordable power and millions of dollars in local economic development but, unfortunately, won’t get to see that occur anytime soon. We look forward to trying to work with state and local officials to return New Hampshire to a place that truly wants to bring renewable energy projects into the state again.”

Other developers planning wind projects in the state, such as EDP Renewables, are forging ahead – for now, at least.

“New Hampshire is an important market for us,” explains Adam Renz, spokesperson at EDP Renewables, which is in the early stages of development on a 30 MW to 50 MW wind project. “We acknowledge there are challenges to development in the state, but we are committed to engaging and working with all stakeholders to bring clean energy in the state.”

State energy plan

In September, New Hampshire officials unveiled the 10-year State Energy Strategy. The document notes that there are enough resources to harvest 2.1 GW of wind energy. However, given the state’s current attitudes toward wind, it is doubtful New Hampshire will ever come close to reaching that potential.

Among other things, the energy plan aims to modernize grid infrastructure, set energy efficiency goals, encourage distributed generation, and strengthen and stabilize the RPS. Regarding the latter goal, however, the plan acknowledges that considerable work still needs to be done.

“One of the most effective policies to increase deployment of in-state resources already exists – the RPS,” says the plan. “Frequent changes to the RPS in recent years have disrupted the market’s development.”

The energy plan goes on to note, “To realize the full economic and security benefits of in-state energy, the state must recommit to a strong and stable RPS. [Policy] should not be subject to sudden or uncertain shifts.”

The plan report found that New Hampshire has 3.6 GW of offshore wind potential off its coast. However, considering that offshore wind is four to 10 times more costly than land-based projects, it is unlikely that New Hampshire will go down the offshore wind path anytime soon.

According to the plan document, “While offshore wind energy is not likely to be a contributor in the short term to New Hampshire’s energy mix, it is a technology that the state should watch for in the long term.”

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