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State: Fire Marshal can suspend Groton Wind turbine project

Union Leader Correspondent

December 09. 2013 7:18PM

GROTON — In issuing its opening brief regarding upcoming hearings on complaints against Iberdrola Renewables' Groton wind project, the state Attorney General's Office asserts that the state Fire Marshal has the authority to seek a suspension of Groton Wind, LLC's operating certificate and to halt operations at the facility.

And in his Dec. 4 brief, Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter C.L. Roth also backed complaints that Iberdrola did not get proper authority to make changes to its operations and maintenance building and turbines plan. He said approval for the changes was not sought from the state Site Evaluation Committee, as the law requires.

Instead, the company sought approval from the Department of Environmental Services.

Roth urged the SEC "to find that DES did not have the authority to approve modifications to the project or the certificate" and "to find that the state Fire Marshal retains all of his authority to regulate the project with respect to fire safety, and inherent in that regulation, the authority to seek a suspension of the certificate."

Iberdrola said it acted appropriately.

"Groton Wind firmly believes that the Department of Environmental Services had the authority to approve the revised placement of the (operations and maintenance building) and turbines," said Susan S. Geiger, an attorney for Orr and Reno, P.A. of Concord, which is representing Iberdrola.

"The certificate specifically designated DES as the appropriate state agency to monitor the Groton Wind project and to review and approve site plan revisions."

In addition, Geiger wrote, "the state Fire Marshals' Office was not delegated authority to monitor the construction and operation of the Groton facility."

On May 6, 2011, the SEC granted a permit to Iberdrola Renewables through its local company, Groton Wind, for a 24-turbine, 48-megawatt wind energy company. The facility was built and went online last December. But Iberdrola made slight changes to its plans, including relocating the operations and maintenance building, and claims it did so following state law, Geiger said.

But in an Aug. 12 letter to the lawyer for the state's Site Evaluation Committee, Ron Anstey, a state fire investigator who is a section chief at the Department of Safety's Bureau of Building Construction and Safety, said Iberdrola did not submit plans for review prior to or during construction of the project. Also, it did not install an automatic fire suppression system in wind turbine housings.

"Iberdrola did not schedule any inspections during the construction of the project. Certificates of Occupancy as required by the State Building Code have not been issued for any of the structures on the site," Anstey said, saying the state Fire Marshal is "strongly considering issuing a stop-work order on the site."

"This would cease all operations until compliance with the applicable codes has been satisfied and verified by the state Fire Marshal's Office."

Again, Iberdrola disagrees.

"In these circumstances, the state Fire Marshal's Office lacks any authority to enforce the terms and conditions of the certificate," Geiger wrote.

Iberdrola "fully intended (and continues to intend) to comply with the terms of the certificate," said Paul Copleman, Iberdrola's communications manager.

On the changes to the building and turbine plans, "We submitted the revised plans for the shift in the operations and maintenance building to DES, which concluded that Groton Wind could 'proceed with the minor modifications,'" Copleman said.

"We were explicitly told it was OK to make the change," he said.

Copleman said the SEC gave consideration to the fire marshal's requests in the original process a few years ago.

"We believe it's unreasonable for the Fire Marshal's Office to seek to impose new conditions on the project post-construction," he said.

"It is also important to note that the fire chief for the town of Groton certified that the project is compliant with the state building code. We understand state law to grant the fire marshal the authority to enforce state building codes when there is no local authority to enforce the codes, which is not the case here."

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