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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Use of windmill power meets roadblocks in NH

New Hampshire was home to the first wind farm in history, 20 small turbines that operated atop Crotched Mountain in 1980.

And in recent years, almost a dozen wind farms have been proposed throughout the state. ...

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New Hampshire was home to the first wind farm in history, 20 small turbines that operated atop Crotched Mountain in 1980.

And in recent years, almost a dozen wind farms have been proposed throughout the state.

Yet only two wind farms of any size actually operate in New Hampshire, with a third ready to open this year.

Whenever wind farms are proposed, they face stiff opposition, and they often pit two sides of the environmental movement against each other – those in favor of retaining natural beauty versus those in favor of renewable energy.

A proposed wind farm in Antrim, north of Peterborough, was just rejected by the state because of aesthetic concerns, while a proposal in New Ipswich and Temple awaits rulings on what government body has approval oversight. Talks of other projects have been wiped from the horizon.

Whether these few cases reflect admirable caution, ridiculous delay or just time lags inevitable in large, new energy projects – after all, Cape Wind still isn’t built a decade after it was proposed in the Cape Cod Sound – depends on your point of view.

However, one point of agreement during a daylong forum on wind energy in Concord last week is that nobody’s really happy with the way New Hampshire has been deciding on these projects since Lempster Wind, between Keene and Claremont, was approved more than five years ago.

“I think everybody agreed that the process is just too long and too expensive,” said Amy Manzelli, part owner of BCM Environmental and Land Law, who was one of 10 speakers at the forum held by the Science, Technology and Energy Committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday. Manzelli usually represents opponents to wind farms.

The forum debated which costs and benefits should be part of a review process when considering wind energy projects, as well as the difficulties in acquiring accurate information, strengths and weaknesses of the evaluation system and how well the review process has worked.

This is hardly a debate unique to New Hampshire. The legislature in Vermont, torn between its reputation for being “green” and its love of the Green Mountains, came close this spring to slapping a three-year moratorium on new wind projects after hearings in which, among other things, opponents claimed health problems from living near wind turbines.

Even Maine, which has more industrial-size wind farms on mountainsides than any Eastern state and is pushing hard to associate itself with the industry onshore and offshore, has seen debate. The remote Bowers Wind project was cut back from 27 turbines to 16 after objections led state regulators to block it. Still, it continues to face objections from backcountry guides and camp operators who say it will harm tourism and outdoor activities in Maine.

In New Hampshire, issues swirl around the site evaluation process, which under state law has to consider a variety of technical, economic, environmental and aesthetic issues.

Aesthetics – particularly the effect that the large windmills would have on the nearby Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary – led New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee to turn down the 10-turbine Antrim Wind project, the first rejection the state has made.

The big question hanging over a five-turbine farm proposed around Kidder Mountain, straddling New Ipswich and Temple, is whether the state should have any say at all. That wind farm is smaller than the 30 megawatt output that triggers automatic state review, but the developer wants the state, instead of local planners, to have authority anyway.

The developer, Timbertop Wind, a subsidiary of Austin, Texas-based Pioneer Green, says this is to avoid duplication in the town-straddling application process. Opponents say it’s designed to sidestep opposition in the towns, both of which passed their own wind power ordinances – often more stringent than state requirements – in anticipation of the Timbertop proposal.

The venture at Crotched Mountain in Francestown by the University of Massachusetts, a first in the wind power movement, turned out to be a failure.

The 20 turbines, tiny by today’s standards – 30 kilwoatts each – were designed as an experiment more than anything. But wine resources proved less than expected – still a problem in siting turbines today – and the project folded in a year or two.

Today, the land is home to a small thriving ski area that reopened in 2003.

Some of the students from the project went on to help found US Windpower, which developed the first successful wind farms in California.

As for the turbines, a version of the model known as WF-1 is now stored at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. – recognition of when New Hampshire was ahead of the curve on wind power.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@Telegraph_DaveB).