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February 21. 2014 3:32PM

Wind farm firm puts application on hold to address safety issues at Groton site

ALEXANDRIA — The Spanish wind-energy company seeking to build a 75.9-megawatt, 23-turbine wind farm in Alexandria and Danbury has "paused" its application to the state to focus on its existing wind farm in Groton.

Meanwhile, the state's Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) — which asked Iberdrola Renewables for more information in January about the proposed wind farm, called Wild Meadows — set a schedule of hearings that could result in suspension of the operation license for the company's Groton Wind development.

The primary issue stated in the SEC's Friday Procedural Order and Notice of Possible Suspension of Certificate of Site and Facility is the concern from the state fire marshal, particularly Investigator Ron Anstey, who notified the SEC in August that Groton Wind failed to comply with applicable state fire and building codes and should be closed.

"Investigator Anstey has recommended that all operation on the site cease until all safety concerns, plans, reviews, and required inspections have been completed and approved. Inspector Anstey's request, if granted, would result in a suspension of the certificate."

In a statement Friday, Iberdrola Renewables said it has "made significant progress resolving some outstanding issues at (its) Groton wind farm."

Groton Wind, which produces 48 megawatt of electricity from 24 turbines, received its operating license in 2011. It went online in December 2012. While dealing with complaints about Groton Wind — from the fire marshal, abutters and others — Iberdrola officials have also pursued the Wild Meadows proposal.

The SEC, which has authority over permitting new energy projects in the state, began considering the Wild Meadows application in December, but returned the application last month, asking for more information. The company notified the SEC that it would need more time to answer its questions.

The Groton complaints, some of which were investigated and supported by the attorney general, now require the company's complete attention, Iberdrola said.

"We still need to devote considerable time and effort toward dealing with the remaining challenges (of Wild Meadows)," Paul Copleman, Iberdrola's communications manager, said in a statement Friday.

Copleman added: "Due to those pressing responsibilities, and after discussions with local stakeholders, we've decided that it's best to pause the application process on our estimated $150 million investment decision at Wild Meadows.

"We remain hopeful that we can carefully work through the important issues at Wild Meadows and cut through the current avalanche of misinformation, so that the vast majority in New Hampshire who want the benefits of clean, affordable power and millions of dollars in local economic development can also be heard.

"There is no specific timetable for any further decision at this point."

During the construction of the Groton Wind facility, the company made changes to its plans, including relocating the operations and maintenance building. It says it followed state law by filing the changes with the Department of Environmental Services and with the support of the town fire chief.

Abutters have said 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's order Friday gives Iberdrola, the Fire Marshal's Office, and others deadlines in the coming days and weeks for prefiled testimony in preparation for hearings beginning in March.

Opponents of Wild Meadows were pleased with the "pause,'' but some were skeptical about the reason cited.

Michelle Sanborn is one of the skeptics. On Friday, Iberdrola said it needs to focus on "issues" regarding its Groton site.

"Those ‘issues' with Groton Wind existed prior to their application to the SEC for Wild Meadows," said Sanborn, of Alexandria. "It leads one to wonder if Groton Wind is the real reason they are putting a ‘pause' on the Wild Meadows application." Sanborn is a member of New Hampshire Wind Watch, a group concerned about new wind power projects, particularly Wild Meadows. Wind Watch worries that Wild Meadows' nearly 500-foot, lighted towers would decrease property values and ruin the tourism industry in the Newfound Lake-Cardigan Mountain area.

Peter Silbermann of the Wild Meadows Legal Fund, another opponent, expressed surprise. "While we have been aware of the many serious issues at Iberdrola's Groton Wind Project, we are surprised yet pleased that they have caused the company to put the Wild Meadows Project on hold," he said.

Residents in area towns have voted by ratios of 2 to 1 or more against Wild Meadows at town meetings, beginning last March. Several area towns will be voting on similar articles and proposed "rights-based" ordinances that assert community control. "While Iberdrola's decision to ‘pause' the Wild Meadows project is a good first step, we believe they should withdraw the application and terminate the project," Wind Watch said in a statement Friday.

dseufert@newstote.com






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