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The real price of megawatts, no matter the source

Monday afternoon, Antrim Wind Energy received a green light for its 28.8-megawatt wind project in Antrim: nine turbines sited along three and a half miles of ridgeline, Tuttle Hill south to Willard Mountain.

The hearings before the state’s Site Evaluation Committee have been night-and- day different than the first round four years ago that denied the project.

The prior committee basically agreed that no changes to the project could mitigate its adverse visual impacts on the region: the tallest turbines in the state placed on a ridgeline not much higher in visible elevation than the turbines.

It’s a new committee with a different opinion. The one holdover from 2012 was the one vote opposing the permit.

Four years ago, I walked the path of the project with others concerned about its impacts on a wild ridgeline. We followed flagging that showed the way, bushwhacking up and down five elevation changes.

It was beyond our comprehension how a 34-foot wide roadway could be engineered on steep slopes and through several piles of glacial boulders, Mack-truck size, along with some larger stand-alone boulders.

There’s a photo of me in front of one three times my height, near a stake marked “T#10.” The good news is that turbine #10 was eliminated from the project, and that boulder will not be among those blasted.

That was the major change made: elimination of the turbine most visible from New Hampshire Audubon’s Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.

Walking the path of a proposed wind project is not a committee requirement.

My wish is that everyone walk the path of big wind projects planned for wild ridgelines; and witness mountain-top removal for coal; and sites where natural gas is extracted through hydraulic fracturing, a far from natural process.

We flip the switch so easily to power lights left on when not needed; or clothes dryers when air does the job naturally; or air-conditioners that over-chill a room.

A bone I can’t stop picking is how the Antrim project application minimized the impacts. As just one example, it stated that people fishing or boating on Willard Pond are engrossed in the activity and don’t notice their surroundings—including turbines spinning on the ridgeline. Audubon’s Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary was consistently portrayed as nothing special.

The application said the physical impact of the project would be 11.3 acres, a number the Committee found credible despite hearing that up to four months of blasting will reach depths into ledge of 18.5 feet. Given significant slopes along the route, cut- and-fill swaths for the roadway will reach far greater widths than 34 feet and each of nine turbines will have a .9-acre pad requiring cut and fill to create level ground.

Blasted rock and ledge chunks cast aside won’t revegetate.

Ridgelines are one of the few refuges left for wildlife and other critical natural resources as our human footprint expands. In fact, the state’s Wildlife Action Plan mapping indicates the project footprint coincides with highest ranked wildlife habitat in the state.

The point of that mapping is to indicate where high-impact development should not go, and intervenors opposed to the project pointed that out.

N.H. Audubon intervened in opposition to the project and I was part of the team that gave testimony. My task was communicating what Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary means to people. I did a great job—so easy to do because it means so much to so many.

I said it’s where people take visitors to show them why we live in the Monadnock Region. I included photos of field trips spring through winter—wildlife tracking, nature sketching, birding, wildflowering, cross-country skiing—and testimonials that included John Kerricks Christmas letter to his children that he titled “Raised on Willard Pond.” He cited their many experiences, from newts to loons to learning to swim, and closed his letter this way: “The Audubon Society is raising money to purchase the last unprotected shoreline property on Willard Pond, and I have made a donation in your names. Though my generation has squandered and destroyed much, we have preserved some.

My great hope is that . . . that you will remember that—like the loons here—you were raised on Willard Pond.” I cited the woman who took one last paddle there—and made a contribution to the fundraising—before heading off to South Africa for service in the Peace Corps.

The local Trout Unlimited chapter sent comment that the natural surroundings at Willard is why chapter members go there. It’s not about the fish.

The Committee that denied the original application was reluctant to introduce industrial development into the impressive SuperSanctuary of conserved lands – and it noted the millions of federal and state and private dollars that helped create it.

The Committee was shown photos of blasted ridgelines, but its deliberations indicated no distinction between siting industrial wind in an Oklahoma cornfield or on a New Hampshire ridgeline.

That’s another point: New Hampshire’s wind resource is modest compared to the central states. People my age remember these lyrics from the musical Oklahoma!: “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains.” As for birds, memories from our walk four years ago include the “Drink! you tea” song of a towhee, a species in great decline; the first ovenbird nest I’ve ever seen; common nighthawks—a state-endangered species—displaying overhead; a red-eyed vireo nest with four hungry newborns; plus awe-worthy glacial boulders.

Global climate disruption caused by extracting, transporting and burning fossil fuels is real. The answer is to conserve kilowatts, not generate more through large-scale projects with large-scale impacts on the natural world.

If the subsidies going into energy production, wind included, went into energy conservation, we wouldn’t need to bulldoze ridgelines – but there are no lobbyists in Washington for that, and little financial profit.

May we all think of ovenbirds and towhees when we flip the switch.

Backyard Birder by Francie Von Mertens appears every other week in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.