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NH Supreme Court upholds siting approval of Antrim Wind project

New Hampshire's highest court has issued an opinion that allows construction of a planned 28.8-MW wind farm to go forward, six years after the project first went before state regulators.

In a May 11 ruling, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the December 2016 decision of a specially appointed subcommittee of the state Site Evaluation Committee that authorized the construction and operation of the Antrim Wind Energy Project (Antrim II) project on a ridgeline in Hillsborough County, N.H. The proposed wind farm has faced stiff opposition by local residents who fear the wind turbines will harm scenic views, interfere with a nearby wildlife habitat, lower property values and cause significant noise pollution.

The project's owner Eolian Renewable Energy is a subsidiary of Walden Green Energy, a private firm founded by former Barclays Capital executives. In February, Walden Green Energy agreed to sell the project to TransAlta Renewables Inc., an affiliate of Canadian power generator TransAlta Corp.

A team comprising of Walden Green Energy, Eolian Renewable Energy and an investment subsidiary of the German utility and renewable developer RWE AG has been developing the project. Developers expect the project to start generating electricity the second half of 2019, and they have already secured 20-year power purchase agreements with New Hampshire Electric Cooperative Inc. and Partners HealthCare System, Inc. for the wind facility's output.

New Hampshire's siting agency originally rejected the project in 2013 on the grounds that its initial proposal to build 10 turbines each 492 feet tall would be an eyesore. The company resubmitted a scaled-down proposal which reduced the number of turbines to nine, shortened the height of eight of the turbines to 488.8 feet and the ninth to 446.2 feet, and set aside 100 acres of additional conservation land for a total of 908 acres.

Petitioners argued in their appeal that the second proposal was too similar to the rejected one and thus should not be considered by the seven-member subcommittee of the Site Evaluation Committee. The appellants also challenged the subcommittee's membership and contended that the judges' findings regarding health, safety and aesthetics lacked sufficient evidence to back up the approval.

Associate Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi wrote that the petitioners may disagree with the subcommittee's assessment of the visual impact of the project but they have not demonstrated that the subcommittee's decision was unreasonable.