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Work begins to turn former Troy Mills into apartments
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TROY — After years of working to find a new use for the old Troy Mills complex, construction has begun to convert part of the facility into an apartment building.

Developer Christopher Eric Farris purchased the property, along with two parking lots across the street from the Monadnock Street facility, last month for a price of $368,000, according to minutes from the town redevelopment group’s Oct. 7 meeting.

Construction began after Farris closed on the building two weeks ago, according to Richard H. Thackston III, chairman of the Troy Selectboard. He said the plan is to convert a portion of the property into a mixed-use space, including around 100 one-bedroom apartments and some commercial units as well.

“It’s not much different from what everyone has been talking about from the beginning,” Thackston said of the plans. “The difference is this is a private developer with renovation experience and his own capital.”

Thackston said the efforts to redevelop the mill have been a nearly two-decade project, and during that time, several others have pitched ideas for the site. Most recently, in the spring of 2020, the town received an offer from the New York City-based management firm Cougar Capital, which also had plans to convert it into apartments. A similar plan was proposed in 2005 but didn’t pan out.

The 2020 proposal expected to rely heavily on government grants to complete the project, Thackston said, which ultimately didn’t materialize. He noted that Farris has purchased half the property, with the remaining half sold earlier this year to CWMA Realty, which will use the space for a Mi-Box, a Fitzwilliam-based moving and storage company.

Farris was not reachable for comment.

Converting former mill buildings into apartment complexes has become a popular way to re-purpose them in recent years. In the fall of 2019, Brady Sullivan Keene Properties completed its transformation of the Colony Mill property on West Street into high-end apartments.

The Troy Mills complex comprises several buildings constructed between 1920 and 1995. The mill originally made horse blankets for the Union Army during the Civil War and employed some 500 people at its peak.

Over the years, the facility transitioned into a leading producer of automotive fabrics, most recently making materials for Toyota and Ford. The mill closed its doors in 2001 and filed for bankruptcy two years later. The property was given to the town due to a significant amount of back taxes, and the town then created the Troy Redevelopment Group, which was established to find a buyer for the property. The group disbanded in late 2015 and filed for bankruptcy itself, but was revived in January 2019 with the three selectmen as members.

“Everyone who’s been involved in this is excited,” Thackston said of the long-term project finally coming to an end.

He added that in addition to bringing the mills saga to a close and putting the property back on the tax rolls, the project signifies progress in addressing the housing shortage that’s being felt across New Hampshire.

According to state’s 2020 Residential Rental Costs Survey, New Hampshire’s vacancy rate in 2020 was 1.8 percent, while the ideal rate is somewhere between 4 and 5 percent. The rate was 4.4 percent in 2010, but dipped as low as 0.8 percent in 2019.

Thackston, who is also a Realtor, said a low vacancy rate is a problem in Troy, as well. And he said that while one more apartment complex won’t solve the problem, it’s a good start.

“This is a step in the right direction,” he said. “People are willing to invest in Troy. There’s value to real estate in Troy — it’s a good place to invest and live.”

Sentinel reader Greg Walsh captured this early morning moment of stillness recently at Pearly Pond in Rindge, creating a mirror-like reflection of Mount Mondanock.

Supporters of offshore wind fear New Hampshire is blowing a big opportunity

Drought. Flooding. Extreme rain. Warmer winters. Less snowpack. The impacts of climate change have already touched the northeastern corner of the United States, just as they are being felt in different ways across the country and planet.

With world leaders having departed COP26, a massive international conference in Glasgow that set goals for tackling this global problem, at least some in the region have set their sights on the hazy horizon out at sea.

Their hope? That offshore wind — a budding industry in this part of the world — will transform the power supply, moving the needle in a transition away from fossil fuels and toward sources of energy that don’t emit carbon dioxide.

Decisions from COP26 could impact the future of the offshore wind industry in this part of the world, according to Susannah Hatch, the clean energy coalition director at the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

“Some decisions there would really help spur the industry and renewable energy writ large,” she said, like investment and innovation in renewable energy that could drive down costs both in New England and around the world.

Hatch’s work has focused on offshore wind — which she calls a critical clean energy solution in the Northeast given the geography (the proximity to the Gulf of Maine) and energy demands (high in the winter, at a time when the wind usually blows). Even so, she said wind is just one piece of the puzzle, and that the international conversation needs to take a bigger, systemic focus.

That could mean doing away the fossil fuel industry entirely, which is what a few leaders who are part of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance pushed for at COP26, according to reporting by Politico. Other proposals out of COP26 — like pledges to reach net-zero emissions, halt deforestation, and reduce methane emissions — have drawn skepticism; the Climate Action Tracker released a report on Tuesday showing that even with 2030 pledges made at COP26, the world is on track to warm 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100, exceeding the commonly cited 1.5-degree cutoff to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

“It is clear there is a massive credibility, action, and commitment gap that casts a long and dark shadow of doubt over the net-zero goals put forward by more than 140 countries, covering 90 percent of global emissions,” according to a Tuesday briefing by the Climate Action Tracker.

Some energy experts in the state agree with Hatch that singling out one technology isn’t the right approach when it comes to combating climate change. Sam Evans-Brown, the executive director of the nonprofit Clean Energy New Hampshire, is among them.

“Why don’t we just say that what we want is clean energy?” he said, adding: “Personally, I think that’s a better way to go than picking a single technology and then going and saying we want ‘X’ amount of this technology.”

At a state level, a mandate is the policy lever to implement the kind of plan Evans-Brown is talking about. Other states in the region have made that kind of commitment to purchasing either clean energy in general or energy from offshore wind specifically.

“Other states are not waiting,” said Michael Behrmann, an offshore wind consultant in Dover.

But when it comes to policy, mandates for clean energy procurement have been a non-starter in New Hampshire, which has left at least some in the region scratching their heads. Hatch called New Hampshire an enigma when it comes to offshore wind.

On one hand, she said, “there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the state for offshore wind, recognition that it could be a real boon for the New Hampshire economy.” And there have been assessments and studies — like a $250,000 contract to look at the impact of offshore wind. “But we haven’t seen all that much in terms of action to push procurements of offshore wind, which is how states are pursuing bringing the energy to their states up and down the East Coast,” Hatch said.

Some who are watching offshore wind closely in the state have been frustrated by what they see as New Hampshire dragging its feet. They see a closing window of opportunity and fear the state is going to miss out on the economic benefit and potential of new job creation that comes with a brand-new industry in the state.

“We have to be involved in the conversations, and out there meeting with manufacturers, and going to the conferences where they meet and saying, ‘Here’s what New Hampshire has to offer,” Behrmann said.

And that was actually his job. He had those conversations on behalf of the state through a role as director for offshore wind industry development, which was scuttled from the Bureau of Economic Affairs into the newly created Department of Energy. Behrmann quit in August.

“That does not appear to be where the governor’s staff is looking to have an impact,” he said.

The post has been empty since he left. “They are not moving quickly,” Evans-Brown said of the Office of Offshore Wind. “That’s the short version of what’s going on over there.”

The department expects to fill the position “in the coming months,” according to Chris Ellms, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Energy. Mark Sanborn, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services, has been helping lead New Hampshire’s executive branch efforts.

Clean energy advocates are worried about what inaction now could cost down the road in job creation and manufacturing that the state could miss out on.

Evans-Brown pointed to other states that are already upgrading their infrastructure. “New Jersey has invested over $200 million. Massachusetts has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in several separate ports. Connecticut is doing the same in New London,” he said.

“I want to prod New Hampshire decision-makers. We’ve been talking about offshore wind now for a couple of years, but it’s like, you gotta go guys. If you want to take part, the time is now,” he said. He puts the ever-closing window of opportunity for the state to invest in upgrades at around two years.

At least one person in the State House has been trying — so far unsuccessfully — to get legislation through that would create a mandate for the state to require utilities to purchase energy from offshore wind. Sen. David Watters, a Dover Democrat, has made it a major focus, sponsoring a bill last session that would’ve required utilities to procure energy from offshore wind. Senate Bill 151 passed the Senate in a 23-1 bipartisan vote but was ultimately sent to interim study, essentially ending hopes of it becoming law.

This session, Watters has a new legislative proposal he’s putting forward with the goal of getting offshore wind off the ground in New Hampshire. One bill aims to get New Hampshire a seat at the table when it comes to regulating offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine.

Although offshore wind projects would be in federal waters, more than three miles offshore, “we get to have a say over it,” said Watters. That bill would amend RSA 362-H:2, which deals with purchase power agreements and the RSA on the coastal fund, adding language that specifically references the development of offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Maine that could impact New Hampshire’s coastal region.

He called the bill a powerful tool for protecting New Hampshire fisheries and interests, and said it contains everything but the mandate. Another bill Watters is proposing would establish criteria for power purchase agreements from offshore wind in the Gulf of Maine.

Asked if removing the mandate was a big concession, Watters said: “Other states aren’t holding back, and they’re getting the advantages of it.”

“My bills,” Watters said, “reflect the political realities in the state.”

Teacher's union blasts new webpage, calls it a 'war on teachers'

The second largest teacher’s union in New Hampshire has called on state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut to resign after the department created a webpage that makes it easier for parents and students to report teachers for alleged discrimination under the state’s “divisive concepts” law.

In a statement issued Thursday, American Federation of Teachers New Hampshire President Deb Howes said Edelblut had declared a “war on teachers” that could lead to educators losing their licenses over unfounded claims.

“AFT-NH calls on Gov. Chris Sununu to demand that Edelblut step down over his outrageous, obviously politically motivated, harmful effort,” Howes said in the statement.

The National Education Association New Hampshire, the largest teacher’s union in the state, had opposed Edelblut’s reconfirmation and wants to see the state’s new “Freedom from Discrimination” law repealed.

Brian Hawkins, government relations director for NEA-NH, said the union sent a letter to the Department of Education in August seeking clarity on how the law would apply to teachers — a letter that went unanswered.

“All of a sudden we see this form,” said Hawkins. “It seems the administration is more interested in the process of investigations (in) the law than making sure educators have the adequate guidance to comply with it.”

“I think it underscores the concern that the law’s intent was to chill education about diversity, equity and inclusion and about learning past mistakes so they’re not repeated again, for the benefit of our students and the country, the state and the country,” Hawkins said.

The Department of Education site was created in response to the Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education Law passed in June. The so-called “divisive concepts” law prohibits public school teachers from teaching that one group is inherently superior or inferior to people of another group, or that one group is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.

“It was bad enough that the law tried to find a problem that doesn’t exist — no teacher in New Hampshire teaches that any group is inherently superior or inferior to another,” Howes said in AFT-New Hampshire’s statement.

On the Department of Education website, a parents or student who believes a teacher has broken this law can fill out and submit a form, which is sent to the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights for investigation. The commission determines whether the person filing has the basis to file a formal complaint.

After the web page was announced, Moms for Liberty NH wrote on Twitter that the group would offer a monetary reward for parents, teachers, students or school staff who reported teachers.

“We’ve got $500 for the person that first successfully catches a public school teacher breaking this law,” the New Hampshire chapter of the national conservative parents’ organization wrote on Friday.

Edelblut told the Union-Leader that he knows teachers do their best to treat students equally and with dignity and respect. “This webpage is now available to the public so, in the rare instance that something might appear to be adverse treatment, individuals have a place to go where they can voice their concerns and receive assistance — whether that be parents or teachers,” Edelblut told the newspaper.

Howes said Edelblut refused AFT-NH’s invitation to meet with its members about the law and instead launched the webpage to report and investigate them. “It’s a pity that New Hampshire has an education commissioner who doesn’t support educators and the work they do every single day to help our children,” she said.

Public Utilities Commission
Utilities commission rejects energy efficiency plan

Following a 10-month delay on a plan designed to go into effect at the start of the year, the Public Utilities Commission has denied what would have been the state’s most ambitious triennial energy efficiency plan to date. That plan proposed spending over $350 million on energy efficiency over the next three years.

All of the stakeholders who put together the plan — from the state’s major utilities to the consumer advocate, as well as environmental groups in the state — agreed it would benefit the state by decreasing energy use and saving residents money.

The commission, in a decision that came late in the day on Friday, ruled the price was too high and would place “an enormous burden on New Hampshire ratepayers.”

The decision takes state energy efficiency programs in a markedly different direction: incrementally decreasing the rates that fund those programs from Dec. 1, 2021, through Oct. 31, 2023. The cap is set at 0.528 cents/kWh in 2021, which drops down to 0.373 cents in 2022, and 0.275 cents in 2023. Residents and businesses pay those rates through a part of their monthly electricity bill called the System Benefits Charge.

The order says that the rates will continue decreasing “until they return to a reasonable level.” The 2023 rate in the order is on par with 2018 levels.

The decision was signed by Chairwoman Dianne Martin on her final day serving in that position. She stepped down only two years into a six-year term. Daniel Goldner, who will replace Martin as chairman of the commission, also signed off on the order.

Consumer Advocate Don Kreis called the decision “a radical act of destruction” and said the order was deeply troubling. “In its order issued last night, the PUC has administered a sledgehammer to more than two decades of energy efficiency programs as delivered under the NHSaves banner,” he said in an email.

Kreis said he will consider seeking a rehearing, which would be a first step toward appealing the decision.