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Wind power advocates pan New Hampshire moratorium on development

CONCORD – Wind turbines may provide just 1.5 percent of New England’s electricity, but advocates say their environmental benefits and role in diversifying the region’s power sources mean the state shouldn’t place more obstacles in its way.

Environment New Hampshire, a state affiliate of the group Environment America, made that argument Tuesday in preparation for a likely vote Wednesday’s on HB 580 by the House of Representatives. The bill would place a moratorium on development of new wind farms and power transmission lines “until the state issues a comprehensive energy plan.” The bill is aimed at least as much at the controversial Northern Pass transmission line, which would carry Quebec hydropower to the New England grid, as at any proposed wind farms.

As part of a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Rep. Robert Backus, D-Manchester, said he opposes the moratorium and argued that wind must be part of the state’s push to get nearly 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

“New Hampshire should not turn away from the increasingly important role of wind energy in our future, even as we take care to assure that our state siting process considers each proposed facility carefully and assesses all likely impacts,” Backus said.

“There is no problem-free source of energy, and that is certainly true of wind,” he said, adding that wind power’s lack of pollution while producing electricity – not just less smog but no “legacy of deadly nuclear waste” – makes it an important part of the state’s energy mix.

Jack Kenworthy, CEO of Eolian Renewable Energy in Portsmouth, a developer of wind projects, argued that even a short moratorium would have sharp effects on the young but growing industry.

“Any wind development is a multi-year process … that requires long-term investment over many years,” said Kenworthy, who was also part of the conference call. “A moratorium would put a chilling affect on investment that can stall future wind capacity being brought online for many years to come.”

Throughout New England, many wind projects are in the works. Wind farms are second only to natural gas plants in terms of proposed power-production facilities. New Hampshire has three wind farms, although it is far behind Maine in terms of development of industrial-scale wind power.

Critics say wind’s intermittent nature makes it hard to integrate into the power grid – requiring more power lines, such as some planned in Maine to handle renewable energy – and reduces its effectiveness as an alternative to fossil fuel-powered plants.

Advocates point to its lack of fuel as a hedge against future swings in fuel costs, and its environmental benefits. Environment NH claims that current wind farms in New Hampshire have kept as much carbon dioxide out of the air as taking 32,000 cars off the road, and it also doesn’t have to use the large amounts of water that most power plants require, often for cooling.

“It is economically viable at the utility scale and can help replace inefficient power plants that are going offline in a few years,” said Christophe Courchesne, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation New Hampshire, during the conference call.