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January 02. 2013 11:50PM

Wind farm developer asks state to take over case

NEW IPSWICH - A wind farm developer has taken its plans to install five wind turbines in New Ipswich and Temple directly to the state, bypassing the planning and zoning boards in both towns.

Timbertop Wind, a subsidiary of Pioneer Green Energy of Texas, has proposed a wind farm on contiguous land in Temple and New Ipswich. The $25 million project would include five, three-megawatt Siemens wind turbines - two in New Ipswich and three in Temple.

According to Tim Drew, administrator of the Department of Environmental Services Public Information and Permitting Unit, it's not unusual for a developer to take its case to the state, bypassing town land use boards. In some cases, it's mandatory. Any project over 30 megawatts fall immediately under the jurisdiction of the Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), he said. The Temple/New Ipswich project is only 15 megawatts, so Timbertop Wind had to petition the Site Evaluation Community to take jurisdiction.

According to documents filed with the DES by attorney Thomas B. Getz of Devine Millimet, the request arises from town ordinances requiring setbacks, lighting requirements and noise limitations.

Those ordinances, according to Getz, "impose substantive requirements inconsistent with SEC precedent and state law."

Getz also argued that because the two towns have different ordinances, the case becomes a regional one, and should fall in the domain of the state.

But Ed Dekker, member of the New Ipswich Planning Board, said Timbertop's move to bypass the towns is intended to thwart the will of the people who voted overwhelmingly to pass tight restrictions on wind farms in their communities.

"The will of the people of New Ipswich was made clear by their votes, and it's inappropriate for the state to override the people of New Ipswich," Dekker said.

Drew said if the state does agree to take the case, the process will begin with public hearings, and will include hearings in which both sides will be required to present evidence. The Attorney General's Office represents local communities in the proceedings.

Ed Cherian of Iberdola Energy, the group responsible for both the Lempster wind farm project that went online four years ago and the Groton wind farm - which just started feeding power into the grid Friday - said the state process is arduous.

"Having gone through the process twice, I can say that it's extremely comprehensive and they leave no stone unturned," said Cherian.

In Lempster, the 24-megawatt project started with the local land use boards but became so overwhelming to both the planners and the town, that both parties petitioned the state to step in, Cherian said. And in Grafton, the size of the farm - 48 megawatts - placed it immediately in the state's purview.

"It's a very long, very costly process, almost like going to trial," said Cherian. "And anyone who's interested can have a seat at the table."

Drew said if the state agrees to take jurisdiction, public hearings could begin as soon as February or March.

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Nancy Bean Foster may be reached at nfoster@newstote.com.