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Local couple hopes to put wind farm in Easton

February 04, 2010
EASTON—A local couple is asking the town of Easton to allow them to take the first steps towards building a wind power producing facility on an 812-acre ridge in the Northwest corner of town. If the proposal wins the necessary approvals, the property owners, George and Sara Foss, of Bethlehem, plan to offer it to the town at bargain price.

The idea of a wind-farm is controversial in this small town. Approximately two dozen people attending the town's Zoning Board of Adjustments meeting last week asked questions and voice concerns. The five-member board voted unanimously to continue their meeting until Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. at the town hall.

The project was presented by property-owner George Foss, who holds degree physics from Brown University, and Electrical Engineering from Northeastern University, although he's long been involved in real estate development and presently advises investment clients on real exchanges.

He said, "It's been my dream" for many years. Foss' family has owned the property known as Noble Ridge for four decades. Thirty years ago, he showed the property to Palmer Putnam, a pioneer in the field of wind energy, who created the world's first megawatt-size wind turbine in Castleton, Vt. in 1941. Putnam marveled at the potential of this site, which has 2,680-foot elevation and is accessible off Jericho Road, near Cole and Cooley Hill. Foss envisions eight turbines, which could provide power to either PSNH or New Hampshire Electric Coop, both of which have service nearby. He has created a Web site, www.nobleridge.org, with information about the project.

With a population of just 283 people, Easton is a town that rarely generates many requests for variances, which exempts a specific property from a land use zoning restriction. Their Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) meets "two times every three years," estimated ZBA member, Gregory Sorg, who is also an attorney. The question that the board must address is limited to granting a height variance to allow for a 150-foot temporary wind-measuring device to be able to record the viability of the wind resource. Easton's present height limit is 35 feet. After two years of collecting data, it would be determined whether the project merits the investment of constructing permanent towers. In western, New Hampshire, the Lempster Wind Power Project, which was completed in 2008, cost approximately $48 million to build.

"It's an intriguing project," said Sorg, which will have a regional impact "because," as he said, "it will be visible from neighboring towns." In order, to grant the Foss's a variance, he said, the owner will have to meet the standards set by state law, RSA 674.33. The conditions that a property owner must meet include: 1. The use will not be contrary to the public interest. 2. Special conditions exist such that literal enforcement of the ordinance results in unnecessary hardship, 3. It is consistent with the spirit of the ordinance, 4. Substantial justice is done and 5. The value of surrounding properties will not be diminished.

Sorg believes Foss's stated alternative plan, to subdivide the property into several large residential lots, if the wind farm is rejected, may jeopardize his claim that the existing residential zoning cause an economic hardship on the property.

Some neighbors, like Howard Pritham, are against placing a wind-farm on such an unspoiled spot. "There are not many places left like this," he said, "the area should be left pristine and wild."

"I don't want to turn this into a free-for-all," said Foss, who is also a member of the Bethlehem Zoning Board of Adjustment. He's suggested that town appoint a five-member citizens advisory committee to work with him to ensure that the community is involved in all aspects of the project. Ultimately, he said the town could benefit in various ways, including, gaining rental income from the leasing of the facility, the appreciated value of the asset and the ability to control and possibly conserve a large track of land.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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