After Antrim voters voted down an ordinance that would allow the construction of wind turbines earlier this year, hopes to construct them in the town have been stymied, but not extinguished.
The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee rejected Eolian Energy’s proposal of setting up wind farm in the town in 2013, but Eolian then sought approval through another avenue: changing a town ordinance known as Amendment 5 to allow for wind turbine construction through the town. Voters rejected the proposed change in a March 11 vote, 390 to 278.
Now, Eolian is proposing a smaller megawatt farm, with nine turbines instead of 10 to be approved through New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee, according to Eolian cofounder and CEO Jack Kenworthy.
“We have always felt the Antrim project on Tuttle Hill is probably the best-sited wind project in the state of New Hampshire,” Kenworthy told the Concord Monitor recently. “In this case now, we think it’s even better…. We think we have addressed the concerns, and we look forward to bringing it back.”
Kenworthy’s enthusiasm was reflected by a number of Antrim town officials. Current Select Board Member Gordon Webber and former Town Administrator Galen Stearns appeared in a 2012 video to endorse the project, and two of the three members of the Antrim Select Board – Webber and current member John Robertson – voted to approve the town’s initial payment in lieu of taxes contract with Eolian. The company even wrote what is known as Amendment 5, which would have revised the town’s zoning to allow commercial wind farmers in the Rural Conservation District and the Highway Business District.
According to Antrim Wind Energy Project Manger John Soininen, the zoning path of approval required “reasonable regulations that his wind farm project did not have during Antrim Wind’s initial presentation to the New Hampshire SEC in 2013.”
However, this second attempt to advance the project faced strong opposition, and Webber and Stearns even faced accusations alleging that they had stained their integrity and created a conflict of interest by appearing in the video. At a Feb. 18 Select Board meeting, Antrim resident Brian Beihl brought the issue before the board, saying that “in my opinion, there has been an ethics violation.”
Both Webber and Stearns dismissed Beihl’s accusations.
Ultimately, the wind project was stalled on March 11, when Antrim voters voted 57 percent to 43 percent to reject Amendment 5, effectively ending any hope of Antrim Wind Energy breaking ground on the project in 2014. Since then Antrim Wind Energy has regrouped and plans to pursue another application process through the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee.
A PILOT agreement also remains in place between the company and the town, a remnant that could one day lead to the construction of a wind farm in Antrim. At a Nov. 24 meeting, the Select Board voted 2-1 to extend the PILOT agreement from its initial expiration date of Dec. 31, 2016 to Dec. 31, 2018.
The renewed PILOT includes the updated plans for the wind farm. The wind turbines will be 28-megawatt turbines, slightly smaller than the 30-megawatt turbines originally proposed and there will be nine of them instead of 10. But efforts to renew the plan have attracted controversy.
A statement read at a Dec. 8 Select Board meeting by resident Robert Block expressed frustration that the Select Board had allegedly not provided proper notice to the town about the PILOT extension.
Genest said last Friday that he does not know what the future holds for the wind agreement, but that its path to approval remains through New Hampshire’s Site Evalution Committee.
“The Antrim Wind [Energy Company] has asked the SEC to take jurisdiction again and it looks like it will be going back through the SEC process,” Genest said.
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