According to Jack Kenworthy, CEO of Eolian Renewable Energy, a project developer based in New Hampshire, the best wind projects are those that have died two times because then you know what’s wrong with them. The project he is currently working on is known as Antrim Wind Energy (AWE), a 28.8-MW wind farm on the Tuttle Hill ridge line in Antrim, N.H. in the United States.
On a windy day in late February, Kenworthy, Henry Weitzner with Walden Green Energy, a subsidiary of German utility RWE, and landscape architect David Raphael with Landworks, took several members of the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) on a site inspection tour to show them how AWE will impact the community in which it resides.
Image, right: visual simulation of the AWE as it will be seen from Gregg Lake in Antrim, NH. Credit: AWE.
This wasn’t the first time Kenworthy and the SEC had driven in vans around Antrim and surrounding towns on a site inspection tour. Back in 2012, AWE went through the exact same process before the project was ultimately denied.
New England Wind Projects Challenging
In all of the U.S., New England is among the most difficult places to site wind projects. Walden Green Energy’s Henry Weitzner said this one has been one of the worst. “Walden has looked at about 15 different projects,” he said, adding, “We have looked at Texas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Utah and California, and I would say that there definitely are some issues in California but this is overwhelmingly the most difficult.”
So why even try? Going back to 2009, Kenworthy explained he had originally viewed the process of building a wind farm in the state of New Hampshire as the most reasonable of all the New England states. At that time there had been three wind projects that had gone though the SEC process. “The process itself was long and expensive and kind of painful for all those projects but at the end of the day they were able to be built,” he said.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with his project, which was not modified or conditioned but outright denied “at the 11th hour on a subjective issue” he said. The reason for the denial was adverse aesthetic impacts.
Rather than give up, Kenworthy altered the project, dropping one turbine all together and modifying the height of another to lessen its visual impact. Further, he swapped out the Iberdrola turbines with higher-rated Siemens turbines so he could deliver the same amount of power to the grid with fewer turbines.
Since a few years had passed, he was also armed with more direction regarding what benchmarks the project needed to meet. “Noise is very clear to us — it is a 40 DBA standard. Shadow flicker is very clear — it is an 8-hour per year standard. We can meet that,” Kenworthy said.
Finding Good Sites
Kenworthy said part of his tenacity in building the AWE project is that it is the best sited wind project in the state. Not only because of the excellent wind resource, but also because the project can be built close to existing transmission lines and close to a main highway, so there is no need to build new transmission nor is there any roadway impact.
“Look, good wind sites, nowadays in New England are extremely rare. This is one of them. In fact, it's not just a good wind site, it’s a great wind site,” said Kenworthy.
In addition, through both iterations, the project was overwhelmingly supported by the town of Antrim, save a few vocal residents.
“The town of Antrim has been behind us for six years. The support has been demonstrated in referendum, in votes across the town, and it’s been demonstrated in consistent unanimous support from the board of selectmen,” said Kenworthy. “I think without that we wouldn’t feel as comfortable coming back in front of the committee.”
David Raphael also believes that the AWE project is one of the best in New England but he’s looking at its visual impact.
“Having worked on wind projects for almost 25 years now including the first one built in New England in recent history, this project is one of the best sites, if not the best site in New England,” he said. He added: “From a visual and aesthetic impact, you couldn’t find a project with less impacts overall in the viewshed that are substantive, I believe, than this project.”
Image: The orignal project shown by a yellow line, the new project in red. Credit: Antrim Wind Energy.
The reason for the first denial was an unreasonable adverse aesthetic impact so this second time around it was important that Kenworthy and Raphael carefully consider that issue.
“What we’ve tried to do is create more objective standards to get our arms around aesthetics,” said Raphael.
He explained that while it’s true people are going to see the turbines, other considerations are important as well. For example, “whether they are going to see it in their front yard…what they think about wind energy in general…whether they think a turbine is a beautiful example of industrial design or not,” he said.
Also important to consider is how viewing a turbine is going to affect what you are doing, said Raphael.
“If you are there for the view, then the effect on what you are doing is pretty high. If you are there to fish in a little cove and you don’t care about a view, then the effect is pretty low,” he said.
Kenworthy is convinced that the large amount of public support that AWE enjoys will ultimately help usher it through. In this second time around a broad coalition of environmental and other NGOs have pledged support for it. In addition, four state congressman and one state senator have all written in support of AWE.
Kenworthy said that public officials “historically would keep their head down in situations like this because it’s contentious” so having their support is “pretty unprecedented.”
He explained: “Look, the unreasonable adverse effects could only affect people,” he said. “You can’t have an unreasonable adverse effect that birds or bears are going to observe it.” So if the issue comes down to people then “when you have this broad a group of stakeholders supporting this project it's hard to see how you conclude that there is an unreasonable adverse effect because of aesthetics,” he reasoned.
Raphael explained that in the neighboring state of Maine, The Wind Energy Act states right at the beginning that wind power, by its very nature, will be visible.
“Wind is located in areas where it has to have free and clear access to the resource. That visibility alone should not and does not translate into an adverse impact,” he said.
This means that proving a wind farm won’t have an adverse impact is the responsibility of the developer but by the same token, proving that it will is the responsibility of the individual or organization that is claiming the impact is unacceptable. It gets very technical very quickly.
“If individuals are aggrieved or parties are aggrieved then [the onus is on them] to create a case for the extent to that grievance and whether that grievance is outweighed by the benefits of the project,” said Raphael.
The Vocal Opposition
During the public meeting for AWE, which took place after the site inspection tour, about 40 people requested to speak with those in favor of the project outnumbering those opposed by about 2 to 1. Major concerns for the opposition were the earth itself and how it will be altered by the construction of an “industrial wind project.”
“AWE will compromise and degrade the land. It’s not just someone's backyard,” said one town resident.
Another speaker who was involved as a witness for the NH Audubon for the first project said she was speaking for herself this time around: “We don’t believe that we should support industrial energy projects,” she said. She said she favors energy conservation.
Several opponents said they believed that the size of the turbines was out of scale for the terrain. “The difference between the base of the hill and the summit compared to the height of the turbines is grossly out of scale and inappropriate.”
One woman was concerned about the noise. “We know now that noise hurts living things. I have been by Leominster [the location of another wind farm in the state of NH]. It’s like a jet plane that doesn’t go away. I am against this project,” she said.
As Always, there is a Bigger Issue
With fewer wind farms than you can count on one hand in the state of New Hampshire, Kenworthy believes that the Antrim wind farm is a bellwether for future development in the state. He pointed to national organizations that have come out in support of AWE as examples of the economic power that renewable energy can create.
“The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers is intervening in our docket because they are concerned that the jobs that they get from these projects are going to go away…The NH Sierra Club is writing a letter strongly in support for the same reason,” said Kenworth.
Kenworthy said that if AWE is denied again, it will stifle investment in the state’s economy for a least a decade if not more. If it is approved, however, the reverse will be true.
“If you can go through this process in a fair and reasonable way, come out the other side and build a great project like Antrim, I think it opens up the door for a lot more really great carefully sited and well-developed projects,” he said.
The SEC is expected to issue a final decision regarding a permit in November or December this year.