ALEXANDRIA — The regional development director for a company seeking to build its third New Hampshire wind farm knew he would be facing a hostile audience when he returned to the Alexandria Town Hall on Tuesday night, one year after he had first addressed the affected towns. Not only had the Newfound Lake Wind Watch been mounting an emotionally charged campaign against wind projects; earlier in the day, the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee had announced hearings to determine whether to revoke the company's permit to operate its Groton wind farm in light of complaints from the State Fire Marshal and concerns over changes in the original site plans for that project.
Edward Cherian of Iberdrola Renwables, Inc., nevertheless tackled the complaints head-on, beginning with the claim by Alexandria State Rep. Harold "Skip" Reilly that 50 percent of the electricity generated by the wind farm would go out of state.
"We're in a regional power pool," Cherian said, "and the power is constantly fluctuating, crossing both ways over the state lines, as the electrical demand changes."
He went on to point out that many of the region's current power plants are aging and some, such as Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, will be going off-line, leaving a 1,400 megawatt gap in power production. When New Hampshire's Seabrook power plant shuts down to install new fuel rods, New Hampshire has to draw power from southern New England to make up the deficit, he said.
"There will be a need for power in the future," he told the crowd.
Prior to Cherian's address to the standing-room-only audience, Rep. Reilly and County Commissioner Martha Richards had slipped their objections to wind farms into their updates on legislative and county issues. Richards said she had joined Executive Councilor and County Commissioner Ray Burton in supporting the Groton wind farm, "but I'm using my woman's prerogative to change my mind" after learning more about wind power.
"I looked at wind maps of America," she said, "and the central states are great for wind turbines, but the coasts have negligible sustained winds."
Roland Richards asked her if she had actually toured a wind farm and later told the crowd that he had taken a tour of the Groton operation and asked questions. "I think there's a lot of misinformation about this," he said. "You need to take a look at what's really going on. We all need the power, but people are against hydro, they're against wind, they're against everything."
Reilly read from Article 12 of the New Hampshire Constitution concerning the "right to be protected of life and property" and he said, "Each one of you here has a vested interest in our property. An out-of-stater is coming in here to produce electricity ... and we're not going to get one watt of it. We're not getting a reduction in our electric bills, but we've got the sixth highest electric rates in the country ... This is of no benefit to tourism.
"I don't have to take a tour," he said in response to Roland Richards. "I've driven by and I've seen it."
Reilly also took up the $600,000 decommissioning bond that Iberdrola has budgeted. "Falmouth, Mass., tried wind turbines, and now they're taking them down. They've estimated the cost at $10 to $15 million to take down two wind towers. How much will it take to decommission all these (proposed) towers?"
Cherian said that, in the year since he had first brought the plans to the public, Iberdrola had revised its plans to take into account some of the objections. By switching to a newer turbine design, Iberdrola has reduced the number of proposed towers from 37 to 23 and, in the process, was able to eliminate the use of a ridge in Grafton that would have had wetland impacts and involved significant road work to access the sites. The length of collector lines also would be reduced.
Residents later would point out that people in Grafton had voted by more than a 2:1 margin to oppose the wind farm, which they felt was the real reason Iberdrola had refocused on just Alexandria and Danbury.
After Cherian said the tax benefits to Alexandria, including revenues from the land use change tax, would amount to $400,000 the first year, others countered that lost property values and impacts on tourism would more than erase that benefit.
Addressing the Site Evaluation Committee's questions about the Groton wind farm, Cherian said the company is responding to the concerns. First, he said, the State Fire Marshal does not have jurisdiction over projects in towns where there is a code enforcement officer, unless the town invites the Fire Marshal in. Second, although fire suppression that meets current codes is built into the towers, the Fire Marshal is asking for additional fire suppression measures that would meet a proposed stricter code that has not yet been adopted.
A separate issue is the complaint about the company relocating two towers and maintenance buildings from their location on the original site plan. Cherian said the changes were done with the approval of the N.H. Department of Environmental Services which has the authority to make such alterations.
Resident Bob Piehler questioned Cherian on the cost of the project, its operating expenses, and its revenues. When Cherian said he did not have all that information at hand, Piehler suggested that the revenues would be negligible and the real benefit to the company is the proceeds of the sale of carbon credits and those revenues would not be taxed by the town.
Cherian said that, while Iberdrola would be selling carbon credits, an agreement with the town would set the company's payment based on a number of factors, including the installed capacity, a percentage of its revenue, and other factors.
In response to a question about having to redo completed studies to take into account the higher towers called for in the new plan, Cherian said most of the studies are still valid, but some of them, and some of the engineering, would need to be revised.
Cathy Kendall stated, "I'm not going to pay a view tax for the privilege of looking at a wind farm," and she said there would be a net loss in taxes to the town.
Former selectman Larry Stickney asked the current Board of Selectmen if it had had any discussions with Iberdrola about payments to the town in the event that the wind farm did go in. They said there have been no such discussions to date.
In response to another question, the selectmen said they had talked to their counterparts in Groton and the Groton selectmen were pleased with their agreement.
James Apostoles complained that he already is close to some of the Groton wind towers and he said the Wild Meadow plans will have turbines even closer to his home, yet no one from the company has ever come to see him or his neighbors about the impact. "You're not looking out for the people in this state at all."
Cherian said he would stop by and discuss the impact on Apostoles' neighborhood.
Another resident said the proposed towers would be close enough to cast shadows over his solar panels. "I'm totally dependent on solar, and any loss of sunlight will affect me."
Many in the audience also brought up the compromised views from the wind towers and repeated the message, "We don't want them here."
Perhaps the only agreement amidst their disagreements came when Cherian said he, too, objected to the blinking lights on the towers. He said there is discussion among Federal Aviation Administration officials about relaxing the requirements for lights on wind towers, along with cellular towers and other high structures.
The selectmen cut off the discussion after about an hour and one-half by adjourning the meeting, leaving many people from outlying towns without an opportunity to ask questions.