A public hearing today on a bill that would change how renewable energy is classified and purchased in New Hampshire is expected to draw big crowds, including a busload of residents from the North Country who oppose the Northern Pass transmission lines and worry that changes to the law will benefit the companies proposing the project.
State Rep. Richard Barry, a Republican from Merrimack and a member of the House Finance Committee, sponsored House Bill 302. It is co-sponsored by Rep. Sam Cataldo, a Farmington Republican on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, which will host the public hearing.
The bill recommends restructuring the state’s “renewable portfolio standards,” created by a law passed in 2007 requiring that more and more energy each year come from small-scale renewable providers. Allowing large-scale hydroelectric power to be counted in that mix is one thing the bill would change, in addition to eliminating solar power as a separate category of renewable energy that must be purchased by utility companies.
“The point is that if this country wants to address its energy issues, it should do it from within,” said Tom Mullen, a North Country resident and owner of a resort and golf club. Mullen helped to organize a bus to take North Country residents, many of whom plan to wear bright orange as a sign of solidarity, to the meeting.
Mullen, along with many other people planning to speak out against the bill, is concerned about the Northern Pass project, which would bring 1,200 megawatts of electricity from dams in Canada through New Hampshire to a converter station in Franklin in order to enter the New England power grid. It is being proposed by Hydro Quebec and Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Public Service of New Hampshire, and is in the midst of a lengthy permitting process with the U.S. Department of Energy.
A PSNH spokesman and Rep. James Garrity, the chairman of the House energy committee, both pointed out that because of other technical requirements in the original bill, Hydro Quebec’s power would not qualify as renewable, even if the bill is passed. Barry, while not emphasizing that point, said many opponents of the Northern Pass project have come to believe that passing the bill would give the project a legislative stamp of approval, which isn’t true.
“Honestly, when we were going through and looking at this bill, I didn’t even know about the Hydro Quebec project,” Barry said.
Both Garrity and Barry hope the public hearing will allow legislators and opponents to gain a full understanding of the scope of the bill and how it does and doesn’t relate to Northern Pass. If the bill is killed or postponed, Garrity said he plans on holding a public information session about renewable energy and the Northern Pass project.
The hearing will start at 1 p.m. in Room 304 of the Legislative Office Building. At 12:30, opponents of the bill and the Northern Pass project, including residents of the North Country and representatives from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, will hold a press conference to highlight their concerns with the project and the legislation.
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