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Lempster wind farm is first to produce green energy in NH

Published: Friday, January 23, 2009

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02

Kevin and Debbie Onnela proved 20 years ago that their breezy pine-covered mountain in Lempster, N.H., was a good place for windmills. The small turbine they installed back then generated enough power to run the lights, vacuum cleaner and washing machine.

The winds that sweep across the Onnelas' land in the southwest region of the state will soon power New Hampshire's first commercial wind farm. There are a dozen turbines standing nearly 400 feet tall, and at full tilt they are capable of producing enough energy to power 10,000 homes.

For Kevin Onnela, a long-time alternative energy advocate, the chance to host the project and help the Granite State grow a bit greener was irresistible.

"How can you go wrong?" he said.

The project commenced on Aug. 19 and is scheduled to finish at the end of September. Iberdrola, the Spain-based developer of the wind farm, projects the towers will produce 24 megawatts of energy.

"One of the advantages of this type of energy source is that there are no emissions, no greenhouse gases, no combustion and no global warming impact," said Paul Copleman, communication manager of Iberdrola Renewables.

Before signing the lease with Iberdrola, the Onnelas went on three cross-country motorcycle rides, visiting around 7,000 windmills.

"We wanted to know what windmills were all about," Onnela said. "We stopped and talked to the people that had them on their property and to the neighbors."

The biggest complaint the Onnelas were given was that the neighbors wanted them on their own property. Not only are windmills environmentally friendly, they are also economically savvy to those leasing their land. Property owners who lease their land to windmills earn a national average of $6,500-$7,500 per year, per windmill.

James W. Dombrosk, director of UNH Energy and Utilities, remains ambivalent on windmill energy - referencing the 30-40 years it takes windmills to pay off building costs for the developer. The Lempster windmill project, with a construction budget of $40 million, has since surpassed their original budget, Onnela said.

UNH considered constructing windmills on a few different occasions in the past, but has instead completed alternative energy-saving projects, such as creating efficient lighting - with a payback period of five to six years. The decision for the university was economical as well as environmentally constructive.

Dombrosk also referred to the sheer size of windmills - instead of placing windmills in rural areas like Lempster, he would much rather see them in more developed areas. This is another reason why UNH hasn't constructed its own set of windmills.

UNH graduate Lawrence Drew, whose mother is a property owner in Lempster, opposes the Lempster windmills. Drew and his wife, Sheila, are looking to when the windmills will be fully constructed. The sheer sight of the windmills amid the otherwise beautiful mountains of Lempster and the distracting lights will have to go atop the windmills are what they are concerned about.

Despite outside objections, the residents of Lempster widely supported the windmill farm.

"I don't know that any resident was opposed to them," said Barbara Chadwick, captain of the Lempster volunteer fire department.

The town of Lempster will be rewarded for its support of the mammoth turbines. An exact figure has not yet been disclosed but according to Lempster Selectman Everett Thurber, the town has already begun brainstorming. Creation of a municipal complex, restoration of Town Hall and giving residents a tax break are a few ideas on the table.

Although wind-powered alternative energy is an idea the Onnelas have been endorsing for decades, the sight and sound of their support will soon be shared with the residents of Lempster and all who find themselves travelling through the remote town.

Although not without its opponents, the Lempster windmill farm project is one way to handle the environmental issues New Hampshire and the world face today.

"This is an exciting development for New Hampshire," Copleman said. "Being the only operative [windmill] project in the state, it will hopefully prove to be a nice example that others will follow."

More information on the Lempster windmill project can be found at Lempsterwind.com.

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