After nearly four months of review, the state has formally approved the sale of the Granite Reliable Power wind farm in Coos County, the largest commercial wind farm in New Hampshire.
Following the decision by the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee, the 99-megawatt, 33-turbine GRP that has been in operation since 2012 will be purchased by NextEra Energy Partners from majority owner Brookfield Renewable Energy, which currently owns 89.5 percent of GRP, and Freshet Energy LLC, which owns 10.5 percent.
The wind farm that extends along 15 miles of mountain ridgeline in the unincorporated places of Dixville, Ervings Location, Millsfield and Odell and in the incorporated municipality of Dummer will be 100-percent owned by Tusk Wind Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy.
GRP is part of a sale of a portfolio of four wind generation projects for NextEra, three of which are in California and all of which total up to a $733 million transaction.
Unlike the 2009 public hearing process when the prospect of a commercial wind farm in Coos County drew concerns from area residents and environmental organizations about negative impacts to scenic views, sensitive high-elevation areas and wildlife and had intervenors filing against it, the state’s counsel for the public did not submit testimony or concerns about the proposed sale and no intervenors filed or submitted written public comments to the SEC.
Under state law, the SEC is required to approve sales of large energy projects to determine if the new owner has the adequate financial, managerial, and technical capabilities to ensure that the conditions of the required certificate of site and facility are continuously met.
The SEC’s Aug. 17 approval of the sale, however, comes with conditions, among them that there is a sufficient decommissioning fund to cover the costs of removing each turbine when wind farm operations cease.
During an evidentiary hearing, SEC members expressed concern that the current funding assurance appeared too low.
In their order, SEC members said, “Tusk shall re-estimate the cost of decommissioning at least every five years and report that cost to the committee … This reporting will allow the committee to determine if the decommissioning fund is keeping pace with the estimated cost of decommissioning over time.”
On July 30, Tusk/NextEra informed the SEC that they would add $89,403 to the decommissioning fund to bring it up to a total of $844,033 to meet the current decommissioning estimate.
During the evidentiary hearing, Allen Brooks, counsel for the public with the office of the New Hampshire Attorney General, said “the NextEra organization is a known entity in New Hampshire and has extensive financial resources.”
Currently, NextEra operates and manages about 18,000 megawatts of wind energy in 20 states and four Canadian provinces through approximately 126 wind farms made up of nearly 10,000 turbines.
GRP is maintained by four to five employees who are expected to continue under Tusk/NextEra.
Next up at the local level, the three-member Coos County Commission will decide how the project will be taxed, and whether it will be through regular property tax payments or an annual payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) agreement.
Although the SEC in May approved a request by NextEra and Brookfield to keep the purchase and sale agreement and financial information for GRP non-public, the sale of the wind farm will need to be recorded with the Coos Country Registry of Deeds, where the total transaction price can be calculated.
As of Wednesday, no record of a transaction has been posted with the registry.
Since 2012, after the commissioners entered into a PILT agreement with Brookfield, GRP has generated $495,000 in PILT payments to the county, based on an assessment figure given to the county by a New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration appraiser.
Later that same year, however, the DRA set a total appraised utility tax valuation of GRP at $217 million, creating another form of controversy in Dixville and Millsfield, where equalized valuations there would have spiked and residents in the two places would have seen an unprecedented jump in their property taxes.
The county commissioners then appealed a decision by the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals that upheld the higher DRA valuation.
But the tax spikes were averted when a bill was signed into law keeping the total GRP assessment at $113 million.
The current 10-year PILT expires in January 2022.
As of Wednesday, county commissioners Tom Brady and Paul Grenier had not responded to an inquiry asking if they will be considering another PILT agreement with NextEra/Tusk, and if so, if that agreement will be executed before or after the real value of GRP is known or before or after the DRA sets the total appraised utility tax valuation.
In 2011, nearly all of 99 megawatts at GRP were put under long-term contracts with Vermont utilities, with Central Vermont Public Service purchasing 50.3 percent of the output and Green Mountain Power agreeing to purchase 32 percent.
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