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Updated: Several hundred attend wind farm moratorium hearing

CONCORD – Move over Northern Pass; there’s a new environmental issue in town.

Opponents of ridge-line wind farms packed Representatives Hall in Concord Tuesday, outnumbering a smattering of people clad in orange vests, the trademark gear of opponents to the Northern Pass transmission line.

Both spoke in favor of House Bill 580, which would place a moratorium on wind turbine plants and electric transmission line projects until the state issues a comprehensive energy plan.

“We have to hit the pause button; we have to put the brakes on,” said state Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, one of eight sponsors listed on the legislation.

At least three-quarters of the 400 seats in Representatives Hall were filled with people interested in the legislation.

The turnout prompted the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee to postpone a hearing on another wind-related bill until Thursday.

That legislation, House Bill 484, would require an affirmative public vote before controversial energy projects could be permitted.

Many speakers were from the Plymouth area, where the 48-megawatt Groton wind farm is in operation, or the Newfound Lake area, where developers want to erect 37 turbines.

Complaints included noise from the 500-foot towers, the effects on wildlife, even the shadow the towers and blades will throw on home solar panels.

But most worried about visual impacts, home values and tourism.

“This could be the death of our mountaintops and our tourism,” warned Plymouth resident Pamela Charron.

Opposing the legislation were business groups, labor groups and city officials from Franklin, where a converter station would be built for the Northern Pass.

“We keep coming back here. Set the rules and leave the rules in place. Don’t mess with the process,” said Franklin City Manager Elizabeth Dragon, who was rebuked by a Northern Pass opponent as she spoke.

The bill drew tepid support from environmental groups.

New Hampshire Sierra Club opposed it outright.

“It is a fire hose putting out a match,” said Sierra Club’s Catherine Corkey.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the main opponent of Northern Pass, said wind turbines may be a part of renewable energy in New Hampshire. But it favored a moratorium to write wind farm siting criteria, not an energy plan.

Critics of the bill noted that it gives no details on who would write the energy plan, what it would include and any timetable or deadlines.

Gov. Maggie Hassan has not taken a position on the legislation.

“We will closely review the bills as they move forward,” wrote her spokesman, Marc Goldberg, in an email.

The legislation scheduled for a hearing Thursday would require a vote in communities where any structure of 50 feet or higher would be visible. The Site Evaluation Committee could not issue a permit if voters reject the project.