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An Ill Wind Buffets Grafton County: Industrial Turbines

Grafton

Residents in the Cardigan Mountain region can only hope that the concept of local control will prove to be something more than an empty slogan or an excuse for state government to shift responsibility away from Concord. Judging from the groundswell of protest and concern about the growing number of industrial-sized wind turbines proposed for some of our now-pristine ridgelines, local control may be our best hope for protecting our landscape.

Huge wind turbines have already scarred vistas in Rumney, Groton and Plymouth and are threatening to do further damage in Grafton County. The latest proposals would develop 37 turbines on 6,000 acres in Grafton, Danbury and Alexandria and somewhere between 15 and 25 turbines on 3,500 acres in Groton, Alexandria and Hebron.

Stealthily moving into Grafton County have been Iberdrola, a Spanish company that quietly began exploring the suitability of Grafton and Alexandria for wind development three years ago, and more recently, EDP, a Portuguese subsidiary. They hope to erect monstrous wind towers, some as tall as 450 feet. And yes, because tax credits would help finance the projects, we taxpayers will be footing some of the bill.

What’s in store for those towns now targeted for wind development is already clear from the short but ugly track record established by industrial wind in the Northeast. Hillsides and ridges have been dynamited, aquifers compromised, and fauna displaced and killed — all for inconsequential amounts of unreliable energy that will be pumped into the power grid, largely for energy-hungry folks down in southern New England and beyond. Meanwhile, Grafton County residents will have to deal with the flickering strobe lights and rotating blades, along with the annoying noise produced by these turbines. The costs of living among these beasts will far outweigh any short- or long-term benefits for our local towns and communities.

The more that people learn about the debacle that has already begun in Groton, Plymouth, Rumney and down in Lempster (to say nothing of towns in Vermont and New York), the more likely it is that they will oppose them coming to their towns. In many towns where Iberdrola has developed wind turbines, complaints have surfaced that the company has been anything but forthcoming in informing communities about what to expect about the impact of constructing, operating and eventually decommissioning their turbines.

I have to admit that I toyed with the idea of erecting a 40- or 50-foot windmill on my property 30 years ago. I believed then, as I do now, in alternative energy. But these huge monster turbines with their accompanying tangles of poles and power lines are different — and anything but ‘‘green.” What you will see above ground with these towers is only the tip of the iceberg when you factor in the havoc and destruction caused by bulldozing, dynamiting and road-building required to develop these “wind farms.” To give you an idea of scale, the steel-lattice towers of another proposed industrial travesty, that of Northern Pass transmission lines that would move power produced by HydroQuebec to southern New England, are only 135 feet tall.

If you live in one of these targeted towns and think that your property taxes may be lowered over time in any meaningful way as the result of new tax revenue, think again. In Lempster, property taxes fell by $1 per $1,000 of valuation in 2009, the first year the turbines went on line. Since then, taxes have continued to go up substantially every year. To be fair, Groton’s tax rate also went down by one dollar the first year. I’m waiting on tenterhooks to see what happens in the coming year. And the fact that the Groton Planning Board recently balked at approving another test tower in its town suggests that people are starting to grasp the real impact of wind development. These unsightly structures are sure to drive down values of nearby properties, forcing other taxpayers in those communities to bear a greater burden.

Economically, the only winners in towns buying into this fiasco will be a couple of large landowners who sign leases for towers on their properties and quite possibly gravel-pit owners who may get temporary work to cut roads into the ridge lines. On the other hand, the potential for substantial damage to tourism, the second largest industry in the state, is obvious.

Simply put, the costs — financial, environmental and aesthetic — associated with building and decommissioning these towers, which have a 20-year lifespan, are simply not worth the intermittent and unreliable energy production that will be gained. These towers are anything but a “green” alternative. Speaking recently at a meeting on wind power at Newfound High School, Ben Luce, who teachers natural science at Lyndon State College, challenged the notion that wind power can make a substantial contribution to lowering greenhouse gas emissions on the East Coast. “(T)he wind resource is just not there, except if offshore wind turns out to be economically, technically and environmentally feasible,” he said.

The more I learn about these turbines, the more I wonder whether selectboards in these towns listen to a majority of their residents. And will the state, through its all-powerful Site Evaluation Committee, simply rubber-stamp these proposals? The committee was established to provide one-stop shopping for the various permits needed by large energy projects — in the case of wind farms, they include wetlands, dredge and fill, blasting and overweight trucking permits. Although the Site Evaluation Committee holds public hearings and invites residents to voice their concerns, it has rejected a wind project application only once, in Antrim, where Audubon Society land was a factor.

The nearby 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest remains a magnet that draws thousands of visitors to New Hampshire. Cardigan Mountain, which offers a breathtaking panorama of Mount Monadnock and the White Mountains, as well as Camel’s Hump in Vermont and Pleasant Mountain in Maine, is one of the most frequently hiked mountains in the state. Will we allow our government to spend our tax dollars to line the pockets of foreign companies as they destroy our magnificent surroundings? This is no job for Don Quixote. Get involved and learn the facts!

Skip Gorman lives in Grafton.