ANTRIM – The developer of the controversial Antrim wind turbine project has cleared its final hurdle with the state.
The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, which is tasked with signing off on energy facilities in the Granite State, approved Antrim Wind Energy’s project in a 5-1 vote Monday in Concord.
It’s now in the developer’s hands whether the project comes to fruition.
The approval came following three days of committee deliberations about the project, and included conditions that will be revealed when the committee’s written order is released.
Committee Administrator Pamela G. Monroe said this morning she didn’t know yet when the committee will issue the written order of the approval and the conditions.
Once that order is issued, parties have 30 days to file a motion to ask the committee to reconsider its decision, she said.
Antrim Wind seeks to generate a total of 28.8 megawatts of electricity, which would power 12,000 homes, according to the project’s application.
The project calls for nine wind turbines on the Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain ridge line off Route 9. It’s the first wind energy project the site evaluation committee heard under its new rules, which include assessing the visual impact a project would have on the surrounding area and adding stricter regulations on sound levels coming from projects.
Jack B. “Jack” Kenworthy, head of development for Walden Green Energy, which owns Antrim Wind, said company officials are pleased with the committee’s decision.
“Antrim Wind will produce competitively priced renewable power and generate significant economic and conservation benefits for the region,” he said in a statement. “We also believe that the robust public engagement in this process has helped create a better project and we look forward to working closely with the Town of Antrim and all parties as we move forward.”
Construction of the $63 million to $65 million project is expected to begin in the second or third quarter of 2017. The wind turbines are anticipated to go into operation in the fourth quarter of 2018, Kenworthy said in his statement Monday.
This was the second time the Antrim Wind project came before the site evaluation committee for approval.
The committee denied an earlier version of the project, which called for 10 turbines producing a total of 30 megawatts of electricity, in 2012.
In July, the subcommittee of the site evaluation committee voted that the new version of the project was different enough from the previous application to be considered a new project. The vote cleared the way for the committee to review the latest proposal.
While the project received support including from Antrim selectmen, current and former state officials and organizations such as the N.H. Sierra Club and New England Forestry Foundation, it faced opposition from some Antrim residents, residents and officials from neighboring towns and N.H. Audubon.
Antrim resident Charles A. Levesque, who opposes the project, said this morning he wasn’t surprised the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee approved it, given its membership includes two members of the N.H. Public Utilities Commission.
“The leadership of the site evaluation committee is heavy to the public utilities commission, which is all about approving energy projects,” said Levesque, who, with neighbors filed a brief opposing the project during the committee’s hearings on the wind turbines that concluded last month. “I knew they were approved before (the proceedings) started.”
Levesque said he wasn’t always against the project, and was a member of the Antrim Planning Board the first time around when the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee denied the project.
However, some things that happened after that suggested to him the project wasn’t a good deal for Antrim taxpayers, he said.
“My issues are two-fold with the project. The biggest one is the PILOT agreement selectmen signed years ago,” he said.
The payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, gives Antrim Wind a $5 million break from what its full property taxes would have been, he said, and the selectmen didn’t have to do that.
He is also concerned about the effects the project could have on abutters and the environment.
While the committee has approved the certificate allowing the Antrim Wind project, the ramifications of its decision won’t be known until the written order is released with the committee’s conditions of approval, he said.
“Just because they granted the certificate doesn’t mean the project will be built,” he said. “The conditions placed on it … could be too onerous.”