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State rejects Antrim wind farm proposal due to concerns from abutters

After a state committee recently rejected the proposal for a 30-megawatt wind farm in Antrim, it’s unclear whether the Portsmouth-based energy company that’s spent the better part of four years pitching the project will appeal the decision.

Antrim Wind Energy LLC, which is based on the Seacoast but is part of Eolian Renewable Energy of Delaware, last year applied to the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee asking to build the 10-turbine wind farm on the ridgeline of Tuttle Hill in Antrim. Though there was a great deal of support for the project from people in town, a group of abutters to the project as well as the New Hampshire Audubon opposed the project.

Late last week, the SEC, which has jurisdiction over the project, rejected the proposal in a 6-3 vote.

“The committee decided . . . the project would cause an unreasonable adverse effect on the aesthetics of the region,” said Michael Iacopino, attorney for the SEC. “They were primarily concerned with the visual impact.”

While he couldn’t yet give details, Iacopino said the SEC had concerns about the scale of the project and the height of the towers as it related to aesthetics. He said a full transcript of how the committee arrived at its decision will be released at a later date.

Height issue

The project was supposed to include 500-foot turbines, which would have been the tallest in the state.

Jack Kenworthy, Eolian’s CEO, in previous interviews with the Monitor said the height was necessary to capture the most wind and thus make more electricity.

In an interview yesterday evening, he said he was disappointed with the decision.

“We don’t agree with the finding,” he said. “We believe that the Antrim wind project has gone a great deal farther than any other wind project previously in the state in working to mitigate the visual impacts which are in every case and to some extent unavoidable with wind projects.”

He said they offered to use fewer of the larger turbines and radar-activated lighting systems to mitigate the aesthetic impact.

“I think it’s one of these subjective criteria for which there is no clear standard in the state,” Kenworthy said. “And I think it’s a setback not only for Antrim Wind but for clean energy in New Hampshire in general.”

He explained that the larger turbines are becoming the standard in the industry because fewer are needed to create more energy. So, he reasoned, if this project was rejected because of the height of the towers, others, he thinks, would also be in jeopardy.

As for this project, he said he is waiting to read the committee’s written decision, which should be out sometime in the next 30 days. Iacopino said the company or any other party that feels aggrieved by the decision can ask for a rehearing before the SEC.

Three members of the SEC voted for the project, but Iacopino said he didn’t yet have their reasoning for doing so.

There were going to be some benefits to the project, including 86 jobs in the building process, and it was expected to save 20 million gallons of water and potentially offset 50,000 tons of carbon.

Had the project gone forward, it also would have been somewhat of a tax boon for the town of Antrim. Eolian and town officials had penned a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement that would have garnered the town anywhere from $5 million to $8 million in tax revenue over the life of the project. Town Administrator Galen Stearns said that money had not yet been figured into any budget planning so it won’t have an effect in that way. But there will be people in town, he said, who will be disappointed that the project is not going forward.

Another group generally in favor of wind energy but opposed to this project, the New Hampshire Audubon, released a statement explaining that the height of the turbines would have had an impact on the adjacent dePierrefeu-Willard Pond Sanctuary, owned by the Audubon.

“This is a victory for the users of Willard Pond and the surrounding Sanctuary, which is NH Audubon’s largest, as well as the region’s wildlife,” the statement read. “The Board of Trustees of New Hampshire Audubon opposed the project because of the impact the industrial scale wind farm would have had on the Sanctuary’s wildlife residents and human visitors, and because several generations of members and donors have invested their time and financial resources to protect the land that NH Audubon holds in trust for present and future generations.”

Proper siting key

The statement went on to say that the board of directors for the Audubon believes in wind energy, as long as the projects are properly sited.

“Proper siting involves a multitude of considerations, including environmental impacts,” the statement read. “We felt strongly that this proposed project failed the ‘proper siting’ criteria. Clearly, the SEC agreed.”

Loranne Carey Block, an Antrim resident who opposed the project from the beginning, described the area of Willard Pond.

“Willard is just truly a gem for Antrim – undisturbed, undeveloped area in southern New Hampshire that’s very rare and makes it very special,” she said. “There would have been huge impact on Willard Pond.”

Carey Block said she was pleased with the decision and the way the SEC came to that decision.

“The fact that the SEC is open, and open to views and listens and came to the site and looked at the site and understood that Antrim has really wonderful zoning in place, and understood the aesthetics and the nature of the land,” she said, “it was very clear that this decision was not about protecting scenic views from individual residences. It was about the overall aesthetic impact to the entire region.”

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