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New England warming to wind -- A New Hampshire first

New Hampshire will soon join its bordering New England states with a commercial wind power project of its own. Community Wind Energy Inc, acquired last year by Spain's Iberdrola, is the first company to get the go-ahead from state regulators to proceed on construction of a commercial wind plant. The 24 MW project, located on a ridge in Lempster, in the southwest portion of the state, is modest in scale but shows that wind projects can succeed in the state.

"It's not easy being first," says Ed Cherian, the project's director. The New England region -- including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine -- has decent wind resources, high energy prices, and an insatiable demand for more power. But the region's dependence on the tourist industry and its condensed population has made it notoriously difficult for wind projects to surmount local opposition, even when it is frequently minority opposition.

The Lempster project's approval is a sign of changing attitudes. "It's a long and difficult process to get projects approved in New England but what is driving this is a lot of popular support," says Cherian. "New England is heavily dependent on natural gas so there is an understanding that we have to diversify the fuel base."

A nearly exclusive reliance on natural gas in the New England Power Pool (NEPOOL), a regional transmission organisation, has led to high prices paid both to producers and charged to ratepayers, which in turn makes wind prices more competitive. But prices are not high enough that Community Wind is operating this as a merchant plant selling into the NEPOOL spot market. The project secured a 20-year power purchase agreement with utility Public Service of New Hampshire.

Improving attitudes

A recent state law calls for a rising proportion of renewable energy in power supplies (Windpower Monthly, June 2007), but it is not responsible for driving the project, says Cherian. The Lempster plant has been in the works for years, driven largely by market economics, he says. It was the first wind plant review for New Hampshire regulators, but they were supportive, he says. Twelve Gamesa 2 MW turbines where selected for the project, partly because Iberdrola owns a 22% stake in the Spanish manufacturer now producing turbines in Pennsylvania.

Attitudes to wind are improving in New England generally. In neighbouring Maine, UPC Wind, which brought its 42 MW Mars Hill project online at the beginning of the year, received conditional approval last month from Vermont state regulators on a 40 MW project -- although tax provisions at the state level still need to be clarified before it moves on. For Community Wind, Cherian says his firm has a further pipeline of potential projects in New Hampshire and Maine but none are as far along as the Lempster project. Community Wind's success has already prompted other followers in New Hampshire. Connecticut-based Noble Wind Power, which has seen considerable development success in the New York market, recently announced plans for a project up to 100 MW in New Hampshire's Coos County, its most northerly region.

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