The hot potato has landed.
The state once again has final say in a wind turbine project proposed on Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain.
On Friday morning, the state’s Site Evaluation Committee voted 7-2 to take jurisdiction of the proposed wind farm, which means the state and not the town will decide whether the turbines can be built and what mitigations might be required.
“[Antrim Wind Energy] is pleased by the SEC’s decision to take jurisdiction over our new project proposal,” wrote Henry D. Weitzner of Welden Green Energy, a majority owner in Antrim Wind in a statement issued Saturday. “We appreciate the Town of Antrim’s continued support as we partner with them to bring additional clean energy and economic development to the region. We thank the Antrim residents who recognize the positive contwribution this renewable energy project will make to the community.”
Antrim Wind has six months to submit a new application for the project with the Site Evaluation Committee.
The acceptance of jurisdiction from the SEC means the process begins anew for the town of Antrim, developer Antrim Wind and its parent Eolian Energy. The developer is looking to install nine industrial wind turbines along the Tuttle ridge. It’s a project that is very familiar to the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, which already considered and rejected a similar proposal from Antrim Wind in 2013. The aesthetic impacts from sensitive areas like Gregg Lake and Willard Pond, a wildlife sanctuary, outweighed the potential benefits, the committee ruled.
Undaunted, Antrim Wind brought forth a revised version of the project – eliminating the tower closest to and most visible from Willard Pond, shortening the next-closest tower, and changing the make and model of the proposed turbines.
Unlike the previous project, which by virtue of its megawatt capacity the SEC was required to rule on, the revised project was technically small enough that the town’s Planning Board could have overseen project. But despite several tries, Antrim has not been successful in passing a large-scale wind ordinance, and the town’s Select Board and Planning Board have advocated for the state to take on the project’s approval.
Charlie Levesque, a former member of the Planning Board was an intervenor in the SEC’s decision to take jurisdiction. He, along with others, argue the town has the tools to make this decision on the local level. While the SEC saw the multiple attempts – and subsequent failures – to pass a specific large-scale wind ordinance as evidence that SEC jurisdiction was appropriate, Levesque argued that, while one would be helpful, there’s no need for a specific ordinance.
“We don’t have a specific ordinance for a big box store either. While it might be helpful because it would address specific things, you don’t need that kind of thing,” said Levesque in an interview Monday. “The same thing goes for a wind farm. The town has the wherewithal, and has the zoning and site plan review process that can handle this kind of thing. It would be a lot of work, but we have the tools to do it.”
Levesque, along with other residents on both sides of the issue will now closely watch the process unfold. While the SEC considers the application different enough to be considered as “new”, the towers will still have an aesthetic impact on Willard Pond and Gregg Lake, the two areas of highest concern in the SEC’s decision to deny Antrim Wind’s first application. Objectors argue that the elimination of one tower does not address all or most of the aesthetic concerns brought up when the project was first rejected. But, with a complete turnover in the members of the committee since 2013, in addition to the changes meant to address the specific views of Willard Pond and Gregg Lake, there is no certainty that the SEC will reach the same conclusion as the first time.
“Who knows what this group will do,” said Levesque.
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