BERLIN – The planning board defended its handling of the Jericho Power wind project at its monthly meeting last Thursday.
Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme said the project, which was before the city in various forms since 2006, was fully vetted by the planning board. She said the board held no less than a dozen public hearings on the project in the last three years alone.
The board responded to newspaper accounts of the Oct. 29 public hearing held by the state Executive Council before it voted 4-1 to approve $4.1 million in federal energy bonds for the project. The revenue bonds would be used to help finance the construction of five 2.85-megawatt wind turbines on Jericho Mountain. Jericho Power will repay the bonds, which are administered through the N.H. Business Finance Authority, over 17 years. Jericho Power, is a subsidiary of Palmer Management Corporation of Cohasset, Mass
But the public hearing before the vote drew consideration opposition, with some questioning changes in the size and scope of the project. Others challenged the amount of public funds involved. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, who was the sole negative vote, said it would be the most expensive per megawatt wind farm in New England. Linda Linowes of N.H. Wind Watch testified she did not believe the project would have been approved by the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee. Because the project is under 30 megawatts, it was exempt from the SEC overview.
But Berlin Planning board members said the project has a long history and had been extensively reviewed by the board.
Laflamme noted the project dates back to 2006 when developer Christian Loranger install three small wind turbines on the site. Those turbines were never connected to the grid and eventually were taken down and the property sold in 2009 to David Brooks. Brooks received planning board approval for a four-turbine project but could not arrange the financing. Jericho Power then came aboard as the developer and won approval for a three-turbine project. But abutter Allen Bouthillier appealed the board’s decision. Bouthillier argued the setback was insufficient and would adversely affect his ability to develop a wind farm on his property. The two parties eventually came to an agreement and this March a second phase was added to include three wind turbines on Bouthillier’s property.
Board members said they reviewed detailed studies on various aspects of the project including visual impact, noise, and shadow flicker. Board member Tom McCue said the board spent a lot of time on the Jericho wind project.
Laflamme said since the executive council hearing one opponent has sent her a lot of information about the negative impact of low frequency noise generated by the turbines. She said a local resident raised that issue at one meeting. Laflamme said she has reviewed a number of studies and conclusions are conflicting about whether low frequency noise is harmful to people. She said she thought the topography of the site and its distance from residential properties might mitigate any impacts of low frequency noise.
Board member Mark Evans said the board has already approved the project and it is not up for reconsideration.
Laflamme said Jericho Power began blasting for the site work and road last month. Two weeks ago, one of the blasts was felt through the city and region.
Total cost of the project is estimated at $35 million. Jericho Power has a 20-year agreement to sell about 70 percent of the power generated to New Hampshire Electric Co-op.
The city is in the process of negotiating a long-term payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with Jericho Power.
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