October 17, 2012ALEXANDRIA — For three years, Iberdrola Renewables has been studying the winds in Alexandria, Danbury and Grafton, and last week, their local Development Director, Ed Cherian, met with selectmen in Alexandria to discuss the findings.
Iberdrola is one of the world's largest developers of sustainable energy, and operates hydroelectric and wind farms all over the world. In New Hampshire, a wind farm in Lempster is currently operating, and the company hopes to complete construction of their nearby Groton wind farm in the next month.
After studying the Alexandria area and collecting data from several sources, Iberdrola came to officials in Alexandria late last year to obtain permits for a test tower on leased land located off Washburn Road on Forbes Mountain. Cherian said results from that tower were favorable.
"We're at a point now where we're ready to move forward. We think this is an area that can support a wind farm," he explained.
He told the board that winds in Alexandria are of a good steady quality, with little to no variation. The location on Forbes Mountain is compatible for a wind farm, with easy access to the power lines running along Bog Road. From there, Iberdrola would convey the energy to electric companies who wished to purchase it.
"Those big power lines you have here, you are probably not happy about, but they make this a viable location," said Cherian.
He said his company has surveyed the land around the site, mapping it digitally, and has completed their FAA survey. While there are still more studies and applications to complete, Cherian said Iberdrola has a very good relationship with the Department of Environmental Services and New Hampshire Fish and Game, and has already completed a series of wildlife and avian (bird) studies. They have also examined migration patterns of birds in the region.
Residents at the meeting questioned Cherian on pollution studies, and he said "shadow flicker" would be the only type of pollution with a wind farm. Due to the remote location of the Forbes Mountain site, he said the only nearby home is a seasonal camp that might possibly experience some of the shadow flicker from the towers.
Another concern from residents was that of visibility of the two dozen or more towers. The structures are generally just over 60-feet in height, and Cherian said that while they must be located on a high ridgeline, plans are to place them so they have the least amount of visual impact possible.
Chairman Larry Stickney said although most residents in town may not have any financial interest in the project, they do have "intrinsic values" and an interest in the scenic nature of the town.
"I've known Forbes Mountain all my life, and it's a landmark for the people who live here," Stickney said. "This is probably what you run into a lot, though. People feel there's an intrusion into their world with those big machines."
Cherian said the Lempster Wind Farm, built in 2008, met that type of opposition initially, but people have come to feel it actually improved their town. Realtors, he claimed, have found it to be a benefit in local home sales, as people "find it peaceful to look out over the wind towers."
He pointed out the benefits of the Alexandria project by stating there would be employment opportunities during the construction process, as well as full time employment for three to four people to operate it when complete. Iberdrola would also make an annual payment to the town in lieu of taxes.
"That way, we avoid the complications of any abatement filings down the road," Cherian said.
Last week's meeting was just the first in a series of informational sessions Iberdrola will conduct for residents to educate them on wind farms, and answer questions they may have about the project.
"This isn't something that's going to happen rapidly," said Cherian. "If a town isn't generally behind the project, it's not going to happen at all."
Stickney said he could see several pros and cons to the proposal, but a public hearing would be required so everyone was informed on both sides of the matter.
Cherian will conduct a bus tour to the Lempster Wind Farm for any residents who would like to see what a completed wind farm looks like, and how it operates. The tour will take place on Saturday, Nov. 12, leaving promptly at 8 a.m. from the parking lot behind the former general store at the junction of Routes 104 and 4 in Danbury. The bus will return at noon.
The deadline to register for the tour is Nov. 7, and a sign up sheet is available at the Selectmen's Office. People can also sign up or get more information on wind farms by contacting Cherian at 440-3127 or email@example.com.