In both the House and the Senate, legislators are making a new push for a statewide moratorium on wind farms – including one proposal that would also block projects like the Northern Pass.
“All of the people in the Legislature have realized their constituents, especially north of Concord, are concerned,” said Jennifer Tuthill, a founding member of New Hampshire Wind Watch, a group that’s raised objections to planned wind-turbine projects near Newfound Lake. “They are actually hearing their voices.”
A number of bills were filed this year in the House dealing with wind farms and electrical transmission lines, a category that includes projects like the Northern Pass, a controversial $1.2 billion plan to import hydropower from Quebec on power lines through New Hampshire.
Two were moratorium bills. One would have blocked any new transmission lines for a year, while the other would have blocked both wind farms and transmission lines until the state issued a new comprehensive energy plan.
Neither bill will come to a vote anytime soon. The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee decided this month to retain those and five related bills, with the goal of studying the issues raised by the legislation this summer.
But that wasn’t the end of the debate.
Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican, has announced plans to attach an amendment to the state budget that would establish a one-year moratorium on new transmission lines and wind turbines.
Kurk said he’s concerned that the projects proposed in recent months and years are on a far larger scale than the projects traditionally reviewed by the state Site Evaluation Committee.
“Both in terms of scale and size, these are very different from the traditional kind of transmission and generating facilities,” Kurk said. “And until the Legislature has an opportunity to establish what standards should be used for these kinds of facilities, we should have a breathing space for thoughtful policy considerations to be developed.”
Kurk said his proposal, an amendment to House Bill 2, will be discussed by the House Finance Committee when it meets Tuesday.
In the Senate, a bill revising the Site Evaluation Committee’s review process was overhauled last week by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to instead establish a one-year moratorium on new wind projects.
That amendment, which is scheduled to come to the Senate floor Thursday, would also require a review of the Site Evaluation Committee and a study of wind-farm siting. It was endorsed by the committee on a 4-1 vote.
Such a moratorium would be welcomed by Tuthill, who said her group isn’t anti-turbine but has concerns about the sites proposed for several wind farms in the Newfound Lake region.
“Some breathing room is what everybody is asking for, and a chance to have an independent study of the SEC and its processes and to perhaps recommend ways it could become more efficient, more sensitive to the voices of the people most impacted,” Tuthill said. “You can back off take a year, and see what’s happening.”
A wind moratorium, though, is opposed by environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Conservation Law Foundation, who say it could derail viable clean-energy projects.
Catherine Corkery, chapter director and field organizer for the New Hampshire Sierra Club, said the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee’s plan for careful study is a better approach than a moratorium.
And, she said, Senate Bill 99 as amended last week would block new wind projects, but doesn’t address the concerns of Northern Pass critics.
“A lot of people have been motivated and have come to the Legislature looking for some relief around Northern Pass, and those people were left just twitching in the wind after that committee hearing,” Corkery said. “And I think that does a real disservice to those folks.”
While lawmakers are wrestling with the moratorium proposals, Gov. Maggie Hassan isn’t quite ready to jump into the debate.
“While we have not yet had the opportunity to closely review the impacts of the proposed Senate measure, the governor supports working in cooperation with local communities and businesses to explore a wide range of local and renewable energy sources in order to create jobs, reduce energy costs and ensure a diverse energy supply in the future,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg in a statement.
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