PLYMOUTH – To the dismay of at least a few of its members, the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative has signed on as the first buyer of power produced by the Antrim Wind project.
The cooperative has agreed to purchase 25 percent of the output of the $65 million wind project, which will amount to about 7.2 megawatts of power, according to Seth Wheeler, the cooperative’s communications administrator.
Antrim Wind is expected to generate of total of 28.8-megawatts from nine wind turbines south of Route 9 in the northwestern part of town. The turbines sit on private property between Tuttle Hill and the north flank of Willard Mountain.
The project will conserve more than 900 acres of forest and wildlife habitat while supplying enough power for 12,300 homes, said Jack Kenworthy, head of development for Walden Green Energy. Walden Green bought the project’s former developer, Eolian Renewable Energy, in March and has offices in New York City and Portsmouth.
Construction is to begin later this year with Walden aiming to have the turbines in operation by the end of 2017, Kenworthy said. The project’s site plan is currently under the state’s review.
For Antrim Wind, a 20-year agreement with the N.H. Electric Cooperative is a welcome start, said Kenworthy. Most of the power generated is expected to be purchased by utilities.
“Ultimately, for a New Hampshire clean energy project to be able to sell competitively priced, stable, long-term power to a New Hampshire utility is a great thing, it helps amplify the benefits the project will bring to New Hampshire,” he said.
The deal represents about 3 percent of the cooperative’s total energy demand, according to Wheeler. The 5.4 cents per kilowatt hour the cooperative charges members for electricity “is among the lowest, if not the lowest, in the state,” he said.
To serve its 80,000 members in 115 towns and cities, the cooperative contracts power from a number of conventional and renewable sources, Wheeler said.
“The energy we purchase from Antrim Wind will help us meet our Renewable Portfolio Standards as mandated by the state, as well as our own goal of having 25 percent of our power supply generated by renewable energy by the year 2025,” he said.
Yet some cooperative members aren’t happy with the Antrim Wind contract and want to know why they weren’t informed earlier. The cooperative was scheduled to meet with members Tuesday night.
“I was very surprised to learn that the co-op opted to lock in the purchase. There is nothing about the contract on [the cooperative’s] webpage or in the utility’s regular communications,” said Pam Martin of Plymouth. “After the numerous concerns raised about wind power in the state and the efforts by so many people to increase our participation in the state’s siting process, we would have expected the cooperative to act carefully in making a decision that impacts all its members and the state’s sensitive areas.”
Mark Watson of Groton questioned the cost. “According to financials filed by Antrim Wind LLC, the contract price may be as high as $81 per megawatt hour, which is well above what the market is likely to bear today,” Watson said. “With natural gas at an all-time low, and the fact that New Hampshire’s utilities have been able to meet the renewable energy mandates for the last couple of years, I am very concerned about unnecessary rate increases.”
New Hampshire Wind Watch, an organization based in the Newfound Lake area and dedicated to providing education and information about “industrial wind power” in the state, also is concerned.
“Many of our members reside in (the cooperative’s) control area. As an organization, we have worked hard to raise awareness regarding wind energy impacts and the high cost. Our members are informed. We believe there is no good explanation for why (the cooperative) did not make its plans known given the significant controversy wind power has caused in our communities.”