Canaan – The debate over wind power is about to blow through the Mt. Cardigan region once more, as an international company has filed an application for a 29-turbine project that would span five towns, including Canaan and Orange.
EDP Renewables North America, a subsidiary of a Portugal-based company with national headquarters in Texas, submitted its application to the Federal Aviation Administration in November, just several months after another massive energy company, Spain-based Iberdrola, withdrew its plans to build a wind project in the same area.
Before it can move forward, the project must receive approval from the FAA and the state’s Site Evaluation Committee; the town of Orange’s Planning Board will meet to discuss the proposal on Dec. 16.
The $140-million Spruce Ridge Wind Farm would have as many as six turbines in Canaan and eight in Orange, with the rest planned for Alexandria, Dorchester and Groton.
Because wind farms often come with a perceived trade-off between pristine mountaintop views and clean energy, supporters typically argue that wind turbines are attractive to look at and come with huge environmental benefits, while opponents counter that wind farms are a painful eyesore, with overstated environmental benefits.
While the Spruce Ridge project is different than the one its competitor Iberdrola scrapped in March, EDP is likely to hear many of the same concerns about placing 500-foot turbines atop the area’s ridges.
“The small amount of money contributed temporarily to the local economy during construction could never begin to offset the long-term loss to the numerous small businesses in our region that depend on tourism,” wrote Grafton resident Cindy Kudlik in a formal letter to the state in response to Iberdrola’s now-defunct proposal.
She also cited concerns about noise created by the turbines and the environmental impacts.
But the wind power industry argues that wind power boosts both the economy and the environment.
The American Wind Energy Association estimates that, with its current wind projects, New Hampshire already conserves 88 million gallons of water, and about a quarter million metric tons of harmful carbon dioxide emissions annually.
With 70 turbines in four projects producing 171 megawatts, New Hampshire is ranked 30th in the nation for total wind power production, according to the AWEA.
That’s enough to power 54,000 average American homes, and just under 2 percent of the state’s electricity was provided by wind in 2013.
That’s not surprising, given that New Hampshire is 42nd in the nation in terms of population, and 46th in terms of size, U.S. Census records show.
But that may be changing, as the AWEA’s 2014 annual report ranked New Hampshire second in the nation for the rate of turbine growth in 2012, the most recent year on record. The state’s wind power capacity could more than double if pending projects like Spruce Ridge are approved.
Local wind power is bolstered, the association reported, in part because it has eight manufacturing facilities that produce some component of wind turbines or towers.
Much of the debate about Spruce Ridge will be played out in front of the state’s SEC, which has jurisdiction over any proposed energy project that is capable of producing 30 MW of energy.
The Spruce Ridge project hasn’t yet been formally submitted to the committee, according to Timothy Drew, an administrator with the permitting unit of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, who sits on the SEC.
This will be the first major project considered by the SEC since it was reformed in June by Senate Bill 245, an act of the state Legislature with the goal of increasing efficiency and public participation.
The committee now has a longer timeframe in which to consider applications, is required to hold additional public hearings, and includes two members of the public among its membership.
Drew said the committee continues its primary role of reviewing sites on behalf of seven different state agencies.
“There might be a health impact, there might be an environmental impact,” he said. “Those things are very important.”
It is unclear what official stance, if any, the affected towns will take.
Alexandria responded to Iberdrola’s earlier project by passing two town ordinances meant to block wind farm development; in a letter to the SEC, members of the Alexandria Selectboard said that “the large scale of these wind farms, and their siting in environmentally and visually sensitive areas, makes them incompatible with both our town’s physical environment and our economic base.”
In a news release on the project, New Hampshire Wind Watch, an activist group opposed to wind development, criticized the company for moving forward with its plans.
“Clearly, EDPR has ignored the united voice of opposition to their project from the Newfound-Cardigan region,” the release said.
EDP Renewables did not respond to requests for comment.
The wind association ranks the company as the fourth-largest owner of U.S. wind power capacity, with wind farms producing a total of 3,637 MW of energy.