Roughly three years ago, a landowner and developer announced plans to explore the feasibility of a commercial wind-turbine project on a large, forested tract in the towns of Windham and Grafton.
Much has happened since then: After collecting two years of data from meteorological towers, developer Iberdrola Renewables has advanced to a second phase of site assessment and has filed preliminary papers for a connection to the regional power grid.
But there also is much that has not happened: The company, for instance, hasn’t said how many turbines will be built or where – or even whether the project is a sure thing.
Those involved with the initiative are planning two public informational meetings – one in each town – in the coming months. But they’re also counseling patience to those who want more specifics.
“We’re getting there,” said Jenny Briot, a senior business developer with Iberdrola. “But we have to actually do this work to get there. So we need a little more time.”
The site in question is the roughly 5,000 acre Stiles Brook forest, which is owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. A small portion of the forest lies in Townshend, but the majority is in Windham and Grafton.
Only the latter two towns are involved in the proposed turbine project, which would be the first of its kind in Windham County.
Meadowsend administrators have said they are looking at wind power – both in a financial and environmental sense – as a way to help keep Stiles Brook operating as a working forest for the long term. But there has been opposition, particularly in Windham, where the town plan prohibits such development.
Iberdrola won a state certificate of public good to install three meteorological-testing towers on the property. Those towers went up in April 2013.
“We’ve just finished our second year of the MET data,” Briot said in an interview Monday at the Reformer. “That’s being analyzed, and we’ll take a closer look at that with our meteorologist.”
She added that, “we’re confident with the wind. And therefore, step two is the specific field studies.”
That involves third-party studies of environmental factors such as wetlands and wildlife. Briot said such studies are required for an application to the state Public Service Board, which would have to issue a certificate of public good for wind turbines at the site.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the developer is anywhere near ready to submit such an application. It will be 2016 before the third-party assessments are finished.
“Each season has studies associated with it,” Briot said. “Next May will be when we see ourselves wrapping all of that up.”
A projected time line submitted by Iberdrola shows a certificate of public good application possibly happening in 2017. By that time, the company will need to have a layout design for Stiles Brook, and Iberdrola representatives say that has not happened yet.
On Monday, after listening to Briot describe all of the studies that have yet to be completed, company spokesman Paul Copleman remarked that “you can see how all of this factors into what a (turbine) layout might look like.”
“It serves as a reminder: When people hear the idea or notion of a wind-power project or wind farm coming to town … this is a very lengthy process,” Copleman added.
There is another, important part of that process that’s just getting under way. Iberdrola has filed an interconnection with ISO New England, which operates the region’s power grid. Essentially, the company is seeking permission to connect wind turbines at Stiles Brook to the grid.
The application sets the maximum power generation at Stiles Brook at 99 megawatts, but administrators caution against reading too much into that number. Recent literature from Meadowsend puts it this way: “This sets a limit, but in no way indicates exactly how many turbines can or should be sited at Stiles Brook.”
ISO approval is expected to take two to three years. Briot said it includes a feasibility study, a system-impact study, a facilities study and, finally, an interconnection agreement.
Jeremy Turner, Meadowsend’s managing forester, said his company is working to keep residents engaged in the process. The company has organized tours of other wind farms and of the MET tower sites at Stiles Brook; established an office at 21 Route 121 E. in Grafton; and has launched a new website, www.StilesBrookForest.com.
There also will be two informational meetings held in early summer in Windham and Grafton. Dates and locations have not yet been set, but Briot said the purpose is to “provide an in-person update and answer questions.”
But there won’t be any firm answers about the project’s direction. Both before and after those meetings, site studies will continue.
“We’re committed to explore the wind resource up there,” Turner said. “We’ve got the best people in the world to help us evaluate that.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding