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County officials push local hires for GRP wind farm

May 26, 2010
BERLIN — The county commissioners want to see Cos workers at job sites on the Granite Reliable Power, LLC, (GRP) wind farm project once construction is underway. The wind farm is being built in four Unincorporated Places and in Dummer.

Project manager Pip Decker, who staffs the GRP office in Lancaster, and Noble's senior vice president for commodities Tom Swank were at Wednesday's commissioners meeting to hear their concerns. Commissioners Paul Grenier of Berlin and Tom Brady of Jefferson emphasized to that one of the reasons they had backed the wind farm project from "day one" is because of the construction jobs it would offer. Noble Environmental of Essex, Conn., owns 75 percent of the GRP 99-megawatt (MW) project, with 25 percent owned by Wagner Forest Management of Lyme.

Noble selected RMT, Inc., as its "wrap-around" engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor, he explained, because the Wisc.-based company has had previous experience installing Vestas V90 3.0-MW wind turbines in difficult terrain.

Noble is providing RMT with a list of vendors and companies that have done work for them as well as those who have contacted with them, Mr. Decker said. Noble's contract with RMT does not, however, obligate them to hire any specific percentage of in-county workers be hired, but both Mr. Swank and Mr. Decker said they urged RMT to hire local. Such stipulations are not part of EPC contracts, Mr. Swank said.

Commissioner Grenier said that GRP is in the "drivers' seat" and could require them to do so. Commissioner Grenier said that he believes that there are plenty of blue-collar tradesmen who would qualify for the jobs that would become available. "There's no need to bring in skilled workers from the Midwest," the Berlin mayor said. Only about 40 percent of those working on constructing the federal prison in Berlin live in the local area, he lamented.

Mr. Swank pointed out that the ridgeline in Millsfield and Dixville would be a "great location" for wind turbines but that their construction would be "challenging" because of the mountainous terrain.

Mr. Swank described the turbines, which will be over 400 feet in height from base to blade tip, as "big." The road construction work is far more "routine," he said.

GRP has already spent millions of dollars in the local economy, Mr. Decker said.

Since the agreement with RMT has only recently been inked, the company has not yet selected or hired any sub-contractors. RMT is just beginning to gain up-close-and-personal familiarity with all the project's requirements and for some weeks will only have a skeleton crew working on the project. Financing will not be in place until later in the summer, Mr. Decker explained.

The Army Corps of Engineers has still not issued a permit.

Mr. Decker referred to the Feb. 2009 economic impact study done by UNH Professor Ross Gittell and Matt Magnusson, M.B.A.

The report predicts that "during the construction phase, the GRP wind power project is expected to create a total of 550 jobs. This includes employment directly from the project for construction (materials and services) and indirect and induced employment from project investment and wages. Two hundred (200) full time equivalent (FTE) construction jobs would be directly involved in construction with 30 FTE jobs expected to be filled by Cos County resident workers. The remaining construction force is expected to come from a 100-mile radius of the project, including northern N. H., Maine and Vermont." Once operational, GRP is expected to create 72 jobs in total in the local economy, with only six jobs being GRP's direct employees, however.

"Many of the new jobs created by the wind farm can be termed 'Green Jobs,'" the economic impact report states. "Green jobs are jobs that involve or employ environmentally sensitive (friendly) practices or technologies including: renewable energy, energy efficiency and smart technologies. These type of jobs tend to be high quality and well-paid. The construction and operations jobs with GRP are expected to pay $45,000 in annual wages, 50% higher than the county average."

The Cos County Commissioners signed a Payment in Lieu of Taxes ("PILOT") agreement with Granite Reliable Power, LLC, on March 12, 2008, following the receipt of support from the Cos County delegation.

On December 8, 2007, the county delegation of Cos state representatives, adopted a resolution on Dec. 8, 2007, indicating, "the undersigned members support the development of the GRP windpower park under development in the county's

Unincorporated Places of Dixville, Erving's Location, Millsfield and Odell."

Neither the agreement nor the resolution includes any job guarantees for Cos workers.

Union representatives Shawn Cleary, a Manchester-based business agent for Ironworkers Local 7 of Mass., Me., NH, and Vt., and Ironworkers Local 7 Wind Turbine Division Fiore Grassetti of Springfield, Mass., were on hand.

GREAT member Troy Merner of Lancaster was also on hand.

Wednesday also marked the day in which Vermont's Public Service Board approved contracts under which Vermont's two largest utilities will buy power generated by GRP's 33 wind towers.

Starting in two years, Central Vermont Public Service Corp. and Green Mountain Power Corp. will get about 4 percent of their annual electric power from the wind project for 20 years.

Varney Smith
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