GROTON — The state has set a prehearing conference on claims from abutters and state officials against the company that built the Groton Wind farm to close the plant and remove its license.
On May 6, 2011, the state's Site Evaluation Committee granted a permit to Iberdrola Renewables through its local company, Groton Wind, for a 24-turbine, 48-megawatt wind energy company. The facility was built and went online last December.
Iberdrola Renewables has proposed building a wind farm in the area, the Wild Meadows project in the towns of Alexandria and Danbury. The company has another wind plant in Lempster.
The company made changes to its Groton plans, including relocating the operations and maintenance building, and said it did so following state law through the Department of Environmental Services and with the support of the town fire chief.
Abutters have said that the changes were not done lawfully, and the state Fire Marshal's Office, with support of investigators from the Attorney General's Office, said the changes were made without consent or review of the Fire Marshal's Office and other state agencies.
The SEC will conduct a prehearing conference on Jan. 30 at 10 a.m. at the offices of the Public Utilities Commission in Concord.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter C.L. Roth has backed complaints that Iberdrola did not get proper authority to make changes to its operations and maintenance building and turbines plan as the law requires.
Instead, the company sought approval from the Department of Environmental Services, he said. The Fire Marshal's Office was not notified of the changes, so it did not inspect the building plans, nor were other state agencies that regularly inspect new building plans for violations.
"Groton Wind has repeatedly stated that the (SEC) should not act or be concerned about this problem because the changes it undertook without the committee's consideration or authorization were minor. There is no exception in the statute for minor changes. Nevertheless, even if there were, the changes made to the plans were not minor," Roth said in a response filed with the SEC on Jan. 6.
A relocation of "the northeast turbine string access road" involved a considerable stretch of access road along the ridgeline and greater wetlands impacts, Roth said, "and approximately 1,000 feet of new and unapproved roadway were constructed" that adversely affected neighboring resident Mario Rampino, who is also a complainant in the pleadings against Iberdrola.
The changes resulted in realigning 600 feet of Groton Hollow Road "after an unequivocal assurance at the hearing that there would be no changes to the road."
"Of gravest concern is the complete relocation of the (operations and maintenance) building," he said, which sits on a leveled terrace rising 30 to 40 feet above Groton Hollow Road.
"As approved the (building) was planned to be located some distance away from the road, on the opposite side of Clark Brook and screened by dense forest cover … . Building a Wal-Mart sized facility can in no stretch of the imagination be considered a minor change."Iberdrola has said it was following the letter of the SEC's certificate for the plant.
"The SEC lawfully delegated to the Department of Environmental Services the authority to approve Groton Wind's revised site plans, and Groton Wind's actions in this matter were lawful and consistent with the terms of its certificate. Groton Wind properly relied on DES's express 'confirmation to proceed with the minor modifications' to the site plans," wrote the company's attorney, Susan S. Geiger, in a filing with the SEC on Jan. 6.