CONCORD – New Hampshire’s highest court has allowed a planned wind-power project in Antrim to move forward, seven years after a version of the proposal first came before state regulators.
In a ruling Friday, the N.H. Supreme Court upheld the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee’s December 2016 decision to approve the project, which would consist of nine wind turbines and supporting infrastructure on a ridgeline.
The developer, Antrim Wind Energy LLC, has touted the 28.8-megawatt project as a way to generate enough renewable energy to power some 12,000 homes. But some area residents pushed back against the project, saying it could disrupt wildlife habitat, intrude on scenic views, cause too much noise and lower property values.
“(T)he proposed wind energy facility will create an industrial ‘island’ in the midst of thousand of acres of protected land,” Mary Allen of Antrim wrote in testimony submitted to the committee in 2016 deliberations.
Antrim Wind plans to construct the turbines on a ridgeline extending from Tuttle Hill southwest to Willard Mountain. According to filings with the Site Evaluation Committee, the company is owned by New York City-based Walden Green Energy, though InDepthNH.org reported last month that a Canadian energy company may have agreed to buy the wind project.
Separately, opponents have asked the Site Evaluation Committee to halt the wind project until its backers demonstrate they are satisfying the financing requirements and address the possible sale. That petition is pending.
The high court’s ruling comes after a multi-year saga involving two separate proposals to the Site Evaluation Committee. In 2013, an subcommittee rejected the first application, which called for 10 turbines with base-to-blade-tip heights of 492 feet each.
In rejecting the plan, the subcommittee wrote that it “finds that the size of the proposed wind turbine generators … would appear out of scale and out of context with the region” and cause adverse “viewshed impacts,” particularly on the dePierrefeu-Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.
Antrim Wind Energy submitted an amended proposal in October 2015. In place of 10 turbines, the revised plan envisioned nine, one of which about 40 feet shorter than the others. It also proposed setting aside additional conservation land – 908 acres, compared to 808 acres in 2012.
Another subcommittee approved that plan in late 2016, after finding the new proposal would not unduly impact the area’s aesthetic quality.
Allen, Fred Ward of Stoddard and others opposed to the project appealed the subcommittee’s decision to the N.H. Supreme Court last year.
They argued that the second proposal was similar enough to the first that the Site Evaluation Committee should never have considered it. They also contended that many of the subcommittee’s findings on health, safety and aesthetics lacked sufficient evidence, and raised a technicality about the subcommitee’s membership.
The court sided against them on all counts, invoking the deference judges must give to the Site Evaluation Committee’s decisions. “Although the petitioners may disagree with the subcommitee’s ultimate assessment that the visual impact between Antrim I and Antrim II differs,” Associate Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi wrote, “they have not demonstrated that the subcommittee’s finding is unreasonable.”
A project timeline filed with the SEC last month calls for construction to finish in September 2019.
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