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Site Evaluation Committee takes on wind project debate

The state’s Site Evaluation Committee is set to start its deliberations on a nine-tower wind project in early December.

Antrim Wind, a project that, if approved, would be erected on the Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain ridgeline and produce up to 28.8 megawatts of energy, is close to wrapping up its second go-around with the state siting committee, which provides energy projects of a certain size permits to operate.

Pamela Monroe, administrator for the SEC, said in an interview Monday that the SEC is scheduled to begin its deliberations on the project on Dec. 7, one month after the conclusion of the public hearings on the subject. If needed, the committee has scheduled continuations for the deliberations on Dec. 9 and Dec. 12.

Monroe said there is a motion filed by the counsel for the public to reopen the record for additional testimony. If that is granted, it may shift the scheduled deliberations. Monroe said the decision whether to grant the motion is likely to happen this week.

“The presiding officer has the authority to determine procedural matters, of which this would be one,” said Monroe. The presiding officer is Robert Scott, a Public Utilities Commissioner and member of the Site Evaluation Committee.

The project is a revision of an earlier project, located in the same spot, that was ultimately rejected by the SEC in 2013 based on aesthetic impacts to the town – particularly to sensitive areas such as Willard Pond and Gregg Lake.

In the newly designed project, the number of turbines was reduced from 10 to 9, eliminating the most visible tower and shortening the next most visible from the Willard Pond and Gregg Lake areas, and additional mitigations were offered in an attempt to offset the aesthetic impact.

Opponents of the project say the project is not sufficiently different from the one already rejected by the Site Evaluation Committee, but the committee agreed in a 5-2 decision to hear the new application on its own merits.

“It’s clear to us that this project is the same project that was denied the first time around,” said Intervenor and Antrim resident Charlie Levesque. “I don’t know how they can approve a certificate if it’s the same project.”

Objections to the project have ranged in scope from those directly impacted concerned about the noise, shadow flicker and visual impact to their property, to conservation of the ridgeline and objections to the town agreeing to a Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement resulting in two payments totaling $324,000 per year instead of assessing the land and equipment at its full value.

Levesque said he’s well aware of the fact that the committee considering the project this time around is of entirely different makeup, including representatives from the Public Utilities Commission, who may have the bottom line for New England’s energy needs high in mind as they consider the project’s merits, although New Hampshire specifically is a net producer of energy.

Meanwhile, proponents of the project point out that even with a PILOT tempering the tax payments, the project will still be the largest taxpayer in town by far, and like the idea of Antrim being home to a large-scale wind development.

“In the overall scheme of things, the Antrim Wind project is small, but it is constructive step in the right direction,” wrote Antrim resident and Intervenor Ben Pratt in his final brief, submitted to the Site Evaluation Committee on Nov. 21. “If we are to put an end to our dependence on fossil fuels, we desperately need more wind projects, more solar installations, more small-scale hydro, better ways of storing power and improved efficiency in the way we use it.”

While the Antrim Select Board has shown favor to the project, the general public has been more split. The concept of a wind-energy ordinance has been brought up three separate times at Town Meeting. Each time it was voted down, though not all incarnations were considered wind-friendly by Antrim Wind and its proponents.