by Thomas P. Caldwell
ALEXANDRIA — Well in excess of 100 sign-carrying opponents of wind power from five local towns lined the road in protest when the project developer and attorney for EDP Renewables arrived July 15 at the Alexandria Town Hall to seek a building permit for a meteorological tower.
Jennifer Tuthill of Alexandria, wife of Selectman George Tuthill, said she and the other protesters were there "to show this multinational company that we want no part of it".
Residents had voted against allowing wind farms in the town in 2013 and, this year, they passed a "rights based ordinance" or RBO that claimed the authority to regulate what happens in the town, specifically banning "unsustainable energy systems".
EDP Attorney Mark Beliveau told the Board of Selectmen, "We don't believe the rights based ordinance is enforceable ... but even if it is, it addresses a wind farm, not a meteorological tower, which is a passive collection structure." He went on to note that the RBO refers to projects controlled by state and federal authorities, while the 80-meter tower EDP is proposing does not fall under those jurisdictions.
"We applied for a building permit," he reminded the town fathers.
Later in the meeting, resident Bob Piehler, a strong opponent of wind power, contradicted the attorney, saying they also had applied for a permit from the Federal Aviation Authority, proving there is federal oversight.
"This is Trojan horse," Piehler said. "Once this is in, they will have control of the road, and they're looking to take out local control."
Beliveau's argument centered on the conditional approval the selectmen had given a year ago, subject to five conditions. The company had met four of the conditions prior to Tuesday's meeting and the final condition — the posting of a $34,000 decommissioning bond — was what brought the company to town this week.
"Now that you have the bond, we believe that satisfies all five conditions," Beliveau said.
When Selectman Tuthill said it troubled him to say so but he agreed that the company had met its obligations, Beliveau commented, "I understand the opposition to the wind farm, but this is a small, passive, data collection structure, and I suggest you review it for what it is: a meteorological tower. The decision is really administrative, and personal opinions should not play a part."
Selectman Michael Broome, who came on board this year, said that, in light of the citizens' opposition and the RBO, he would not sign the permit. When Tuthill made a motion calling upon the selectmen to affirm that the five conditions had been met, he did not receive a second, and the hall erupted in applause.
Beliveau responded with a remark indicating that the decision would be challenged on the basis of members' bias.
The meteorological tower had been proposed to determine the viability of a wind project on the private property for which EDP had entered into a seven-year lease agreement last year. Known as the Spruce Ridge Project, the proposal would cover land in Alexandria, Groton, Hebron, and Orange and involve 15 to 25 turbines at a proposed cost of $140 million, producing 60 megawatts of power.
Project Manager Derek Rieman said all talk of a wind farm is premature, as they first need to determine the project's viability; but when challenged on why they would pursue the matter in the face of so much local opposition, Rieman said, "We're pursuing a clean energy project here."
Sue Cheney of Alexandria commented, "You say the met tower is passive, but it's here for one purpose, and that's not passive."
Carl and Paul Spring of Groton, who live on Groton Hollow Road which has become the access road for the Groton Wind Farm, already in place, said before the meeting that wind energy is not clean at all.
"We saw that project from Day 1," Carl Spring said. "Our quiet, country road is now as busy as the Hooksett toll booth, almost. Every day, there are trucks going by, doing everyday business, troubleshooting the problems the wind farm has had, and there are garbage, linen, and FedX trucks going by four to five times a day. It has opened up the mountain to logging. I'm a logger myself, but they're going clear into the wilderness area. There goes our forest canopy. And the water in the streams is black, or like chocolate milk. They say, 'It wasn't us,' but those of us who have lived there for a while never saw that kind of sediment in the streams before."
The Springs also spoke of the noise of the turbines. "They say it's low-decible, and it is, but so is a mosquito, and they can keep you awake. We can't sit in the front yard without hearing the whoosh or the jet engine noise. You hear it continually, and it's never going to go away."
Jim Lawrence, a former representative to the N.H. House from Hudson, who is running for U.S. Congress, took the public comment period as an opportunity to state his continued opposition to wind farms. "If I'm elected," he said, "I will continue to fight this every step of the way."