ANTRIM – Pulses were raised Monday night at the Antrim Select Board meeting, when resident Richard Block asked the board to read a memorandum he had written, criticizing the board on how it conducts town business, specifically when it comes to handling the Antrim Wind project. Meanwhile, the wind farm developer says it is poised to bring the plan forward once again, despite its previous rejection by the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee on the ground of aesthetics.
The Portsmouth-based company behind the wind farm is a subsidiary of Eolian Renewable Energy, and is back from the drawing board once again, proposing a slightly smaller 28-megawatt farm that calls for nine turbines instead of 10, with heights lower than those previously proposed. And although they have not specified the actual height in their new application to the SEC, they assure all turbines will be less than 495 feet. The company hopes this new plan will alleviate concerns about the project’s visual impact. They have petitioned the SEC once again for approval and jurisdiction over the project.
“We have always felt the Antrim project on Tuttle Hill is probably the best-sited wind project in the state of New Hampshire. In this case now, we think it’s even better,” Eolian co-founder and CEO Jack Kenworthy told the Concord Monitor in a recent interview. “We feel very good about the project. We think we have addressed the concerns, and we look forward to bringing it back.”
Block’s statement, read aloud by Select Board Chair Mike Genest, proffered that the extension to the existing PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, agreement between the town and the wind developer was rushed through the approval process without proper notice to the public.
“The board rushed to vote approval of this request, with seemingly no discussion and certainly no opportunity for any public input,” wrote Block.
After the statement was read, Block excused himself and left the building, and could not be reached for further comment by press time Wednesday.
“I had no idea I was about to read something that dropped a big rock on myself, and the rest of the board,” Genest said in an interview Tuesday. “But Mr. Block was just retaliating for the bomb that we dropped two weeks ago, when we selectman pushed this [PILOT extension] through the system.”
Town counsel was consulted and concluded changes to the Antrim Wind agreement were insignificant and, as such, did not warrant another public hearing, according to selectmen.
Among the changes to the agreement questioned by Block is the extension of the deadline for the project to become operational. Instead of the initially proposed date of December 2016, the new date was pushed off to Dec. 31, 2018,
“I thought this warranted a public hearing,” said Genest. “I strongly disagreed with Town Counsel Bart Mayor; however, he represented the town and negotiated the initial contract with the power company, so in the end I was voted down 2-1. Sure, it’s a small detail, but having another meeting would have opened up the door to further negotiating, and maybe getting a better deal on behalf of the town.”
Selectman Gordon Webber responded to the memorandum immediately following the reading. “To be fair, yes, operational dates were changed. We did also eliminate the alternative PILOT in this new amended agreement, and Mr. Block might not have been aware House Bill 1549, which was enacted this past summer, made the alternative pilot program unnecessary. This law directs the [Department of Revenue Administration] to access the property using the pilot payments, instead of the ad valorem rate, which would be significantly higher and make the project unsustainable. Without the alternative PILOT, the town would end up subsidizing the project, which is unacceptable to everyone,” said Webber.
Antrim Wind Energy has been seeking to develop a wind farm on the Tuttle Hill/Willard Mountain ridgeline since 2009. The PILOT agreement with the company was negotiated by the Select Board, with advice of legal counsel.
“If Selectman Genest thought the deal was not fair, he should have spoken up years ago when the actual negotiations took place,” Webber said Wednesday.
Webber told the Ledger-Transcript, the meeting on Nov. 24 was noticed properly, the PILOT was on the agenda, and everything was done with approval of town counsel. “The dates needed to be moved forward, end of story,” he said. “The SEC would have made the operational date December of 2016 impossible anyway,” he added.
The Site Evaluation Committee, or SEC, monitors and enforces compliance in the planning, siting, construction and operation of energy facilities. Even though the project now falls under the 30-megawatt threshold that mandates SEC oversight, Eolian has petitioned the state agency for oversight anyway. When the SEC halted and sent the project back to the drawing board two years ago, aesthetic concerns were raised about the scale and size of the wind farm, with some of the turbines being proposed as high as 500 feet, making them visible for miles, and some of the largest in the state.
Some people in town supported the project, but it drew opposition from several abutters, including the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, which is concerned about how the project will impact the environment and wildlife. The dePierrefeu-Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is a preserve of the Audubon Society. Views from Willard Pond would be impacted by the project.