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Land deal could mean a wind farm coming to Claremont

  • Windmills on Kevin Onnela’s property in Lempster, N.H., on Oct. 8, 2009. (Valley News - Catalin Abagiu) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News - Catalin Abagiu

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 1/10/2020 9:53:53 PM
Modified: 1/11/2020 10:16:56 PM

A remote corner of Claremont currently visited mostly by deer and snowmobilers may one day be home to a colony of wind turbines.

A Maryland company that builds and manages natural gas and wind turbine power plants has entered into a long-term agreement to lease about 800 acres on Green Mountain, near the border with Newport, with an eye toward building and operating a wind-power farm.

The lease agreement signed in December between property owners James D. Smith III and Diane L. Smith and CPV Sullivan Wind LLC was recently filed with the Sullivan County Registry of Deeds.

CPV Sullivan Wind is owned by Competitive Power Ventures Inc., of Silver Spring, Md., which has developed and financed $5.9 billion in energy projects over the past eight years, according to the company’s website. CPV in turn is owned by giant private equity firm Global Infrastructure Partners.

Power plant projects take years to develop, and leasing land for a potential project site does not mean it will ever come to fruition, but the agreement leaves plenty of time to hammer out the details. CPV has leased the land for a 42-year period, plus two renewal periods of 10 years each.

The property, near East Green Mountain Road and Cat Hole Road in Claremont, is located around Green Mountain, which at just over 2,000 feet is the highest elevation in the city and the location of transmitter towers for some Upper Valley radio stations.

CPV spokesman Steve Sullivan confirmed that the company is weighing the possibility of locating a windmill farm at Green Mountain.

“We’re currently looking at sites across the Northeast,” he said, describing CPV’s interest in Claremont as “in a very preliminary stage of consideration. Everyone knows this is a windy part of the state.”

Sullivan cautioned, however, that “there is a long way to go and much due diligence” before CPV “would make any firm decision” about whether to pursue a windmill project at Green Mountain. If and when that happens, he said, the company would notify parties potentially affected by the project or interested in the outcome.

The chairman and co-founder of CPV, Doug Egan, is a 1979 graduate of Dartmouth College.

“We have a long history of transparency and active engagement. We take our relationship with host communities very seriously,” he said.

Winds of change

The Claremont site is about 14 miles from the 24-megawatt, 12-turbine Lempster Wind Power Project — which provides enough electricity to power 10,000 homes. That $48 million project in Sullivan County, located 5 miles from Mount Sunapee, was built by the Spanish energy company Iberdrola. It opened in 2008, and the Lempster wind turbines are visible both from Route 10 north of downtown Newport and from parts of the Connecticut River Valley in Vermont.

Wind turbine projects targeted for Alexandria and Danbury, N.H., were abandoned after pushback in the communities while the New Hampshire Supreme Court turned away an appeal by local residents who opposed the building of nine turbines in Antrim in Hillsborough County in 2018; that project began operating last month.

In addition to Lempster and Antrim, there are currently three other wind power plants operating in New Hampshire located in the Groton, N.H., and in Coos County.

Wind speed varies at different elevations, but the U.S. Department of Energy says wind speeds of 14.5 mph are generally required to turn large-scale turbines. Wind speeds around Green Mountain average 12.2 to 15.6 mph, according to the DOE.

This is on par with the wind speed that powers the Lempster turbines: In its 2007 application to the state for approval to build the Lempster wind farm, Iberdrola said over a three-year testing period it had measured average wind speeds of 15 to 18 mph.

A proposed wind power project on Green Mountain would require not only a variance and site plan approval process with the city of Claremont but also approval by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, which oversees and regulates energy facilities in New Hampshire.

Both Derek Ferland, Sullivan County manager, and Nancy Merrill, director of planning and development for Claremont, said they were unaware of the land lease agreement between the Smiths and CPV and had not been in contact with anyone from the company.

“This is a complete surprise to us,” Merrill said when asked about the lease last week.

The landowners, the Smiths, live in Kensington, Conn., according to Claremont city tax records. The Smiths own a collection of parcels, ranging in size from 5 to 160 acres and which were acquired over a period from 2005 to 2018, according to tax records.

Messages left for James Smith, who is president of Berlin, Conn.-based REET Corp., a distributor of solenoid valves and pumps, were not returned.

Most of the Smiths’ parcels were acquired from affiliates of Landmark Land Cos., a Charlestown, N.H., recreational and timberland real estate company owned by Gilbert Bailey, tax records show.

Bailey, for one, expressed support behind the idea.

Green Mountain “elevation-wise is one of the higher in the area,” Bailey said. “It’s probably an excellent spot for someone to be thinking of something like this.”

The land that CPV has leased is also near an electrical power transmission line that cuts across the northwest corner of Claremont.

Sullivan said the electricity generated by CPV’s facilities feeds into the power grid and “generally consumed locally” but that the company sometimes also sells directly into the market and or enters into power purchase agreements with utilities.

But, he added, CPV is “so early in the process for any potential projects” that its business model is tough to predict.

Making good neighbors

In phone interviews, some abutters of the Smiths’ property did not immediately object to the possibility of living near giant wind turbines, depending on where the structures would be sited so they might be out of their line of sight.

Norm Blouin. a semi-retired agriculture equipment salesman who lives on Green Mountain Road on 50 acres in a house he and his wife, Marguerite, built 40 years ago, said they likely would not be affected because their view faces south.

“It would be in back of us. It’s only going to be a view-changer if you’re coming from the south and looking north. So if you’re in Claremont and looking up at Green Mountain, you may see wind turbines. But I don’t see it affecting our situation,” he said.

As Blouin sees it, the bigger issue, at least in the near term, for anyone wanting to build in the area around Green Mountain is property lines. Much of the area has never been professionally surveyed, and property lines are set by written descriptions of the landscape dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

“I don’t know how a company is going to be able to put a wind turbine up on the mountain and say this is their property when no one knows where the markers are,” he said.

Norman St. Aubin, a Claremont contractor who owns 120 acres on East Mountain Road but lives on Old Newport Road, said the ledge of Green Mountain is within his view but the prospect of seeing wind turbines would not upset him.

“I can look through to the two antennas. Got to be 7 to 8 miles away ... you think that’s going to bother me? Hell no. Anything but coal,” St. Aubin said.

It won’t even be clear until the middle of the year whether or not CPV thinks Green Mountain would be a viable location for a wind farm.

Sullivan, the CPV spokesman, said the company over the next six months “will be studying more about the potential sites (in the Northeast) and comparing them for viability. As soon as appropriate within our decision-making process, we will begin our outreach to stakeholders.”

One party that will definitely want to be clued in as soon as possible is the city of Claremont.

“We will be researching it and watching the development of this project,” Claremont City Manager Ed Morris said in an email.

But Marguerite Blouin said it is not difficult for her to understand why CPV is looking at Green Mountain for a wind farm.

“There’s a lot of wind up here,” she said. “I can tell you that.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.




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