Residents of Windham packed the local meeting house on Tuesday night to hear about the findings of three wind test towers on the ridge between Windham and Grafton. The towers were erected last spring to determine the feasibility of a commercial wind project in the two towns. But the would-be developers say it’s too soon to reach any conclusions.
The test towers were built by the Spanish Energy conglomerate Iberdrola Renewables. But Meadowsend Timberland Limited of New London, NH, also known as MTL, is the driving force behind the project.
The company is the town's largest landowner. It also owns most of the Northeast Kingdom land where Sheffield Wind was built in 2011. MTL co-owner Jamey French says the firm is family-owned, environmentally concerned and dedicated to preserving working forest land.
“We, Meadowsend Timberland, our family, were the ones who asked Iberdrola to investigate the options for wind on this property," French said. "We had a success with the property up in Sheffield. It worked well. We are proud of it. I also want to state right up front that it’s very important for everybody here to know that we are very much in charge of this process and the final decisions around it, and the final decisions will be made by us.”
French told the gathering it will likely take two or three years to collect the data necessary to make that call. Construction wouldn’t start until 2019, assuming the project proves viable and receives state approval.
Don Hammond, Iberdrola’s regional engineer, said most of the findings have been positive.
“We think the wind is there,” Hammond said. “The average wind speeds look promising. But we found turbulence in the wind stream. The terrain is complex -- and turbulence and wind turbines don’t necessarily go well together.”
Until more is understood about the site, Hammond said, it isn’t possible to say what size the turbines will be, or exactly where they would be located.
"We think that, assuming we can answer the questions as far as the turbulence and the character of the wind, and depending on the size, it could be 15 turbines," Hammond said. "It could be 30.”
In 2008, after battling a wind proposal that didn’t go forward, Windham amended its town plan to prohibit commercial wind within the town borders. Local officials were quick to oppose the current proposal. Organizers of Tuesday’s meeting said they hoped to spark a town-wide dialogue that considers all sides of the issue.
One resident asked if Meadowsend would try to build the project even if the town opposed it. Jamey French, the company co-owner, didn’t have an immediate answer.