STODDARD – Selectmen have unanimously backed the town conservation commission’s opposition to a proposed wind farm in neighboring Antrim.
They said the project would harm the town without providing any benefit to residents.
Selectmen also support the commission’s involvement in the state proceedings to decide whether to approve the project.
The commission says the Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain ridge line isn’t the right place for the nine wind turbines proposed by Antrim Wind Energy.
“This has everything do location. This is not a referendum on wind,” Geoffrey T. Jones, Stoddard Conservation Commission chairman, said last week.
The area, which is off Route 9, is part of a large unfragmented block of forest that has received the highest habitat ranking from N.H. Fish and Game, he said. It also abuts the Robb Reservoir, a wildlife sanctuary, in Stoddard. About 22,000 acres, or 65 percent, of land in town is designated as permanently protected conservation land, he said.
Of that approximately 22,000 acres, 6,000, or 20 percent, is designated “forever wild,” meaning no timber harvesting or motorized vehicles are allowed on the land, and it can be left to ecologically restore itself, if necessary, he said.
“It’s a core habitat for a lot of species,” he said. “If you look at how wildlife move freely, the project would affect that.”
While Antrim Wind has included protecting about 1,000 acres of forests and wildlife habitat in conservation as part of the project, it’s not an equal trade-off, Jones said.
Selectmen echoed those concerns in an Aug. 22 letter to the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, saying members supported the conservation commission having intervenor status, which would make it a legal party to the proceedings before the committee.
The committee is in charge of approving the project and its siting.
“The proposed project disturbs a significant wildlife area which is centered on Stoddard and also has a significant visual impact to large portions of our community,” Stoddard selectmen wrote. “All of this without providing any benefit, financial or otherwise, to our property owners and residents.”
Further, much of the town’s current value and quality of life comes from having large tracts of land voluntarily set aside for conservation purposes, the letter said.
“We respectfully request that the Site Evaluation Committee consider the negative impact this project will have on Stoddard during its decision process,” selectmen wrote.
Stoddard selectmen took a similar stance to support the conservation commission’s opposition and intervenor status when the first Antrim Wind project came before the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee in 2011.
That version of the project called for 10 wind turbines producing 30 megawatts of electricity. The committee denied the project’s initial application in 2012, citing concerns about the effects the turbines could have on the look of the surrounding natural area.
In July 2015, a 5-2 vote by the subcommittee of the site evaluation committee cleared the way for the committee to review the new version of the project. The panel determined the new version was different enough from the previous application to be considered a new project.
The latest proposal includes nine wind turbines generating 28.8 megawatts of electricity. The turbines will generate enough power for approximately 12,300 New Hampshire homes, according to the project’s Oct. 2, 2015, application.
Construction of the wind turbines and their supporting infrastructure would start this October pending approval, the application said, and the cost is expected to be $63 million to $65 million.
Antrim Wind Energy is owned by Eolian Renewable Energy, which has offices in Portsmouth and New York City.
The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee has spent the past several months gathering information about the project and deciding on intervenors, Jones said. The formal hearing process is expected to begin next month, he said.
John B. “Jack” Kenworthy, chief executive officer of Eolian Renewable Energy, described the project last year as the “best sited wind project in the state of New Hampshire.”
He added that firm officials had worked closely with the town of Antrim to “advance our goals for low cost clean energy generation in a way that benefits everyone.”
Antrim selectmen and many residents have supported the wind farm proposal, primarily because of the likelihood of the town seeing economic benefits from it.