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Moratorium on wind energy killed in House

A bill to put a moratorium on establishing any new wind projects or transmission lines in New Hampshire until the state establishes a comprehensive energy plan died on the House floor Wednesday.

The bill would have kept the state’s Site Evaluation Committee from issuing permits to any company aiming to install wind energy facilities in the state until the moratorium was lifted. Any hopes for Antrim Wind, a subsidiary of Eolian Renewable Energy of Portsmouth, which may revisit a plan to erect turbines on Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain in Antrim later this year, would have been affected.

The decision on the moratorium follows a report on the benefits of wind power released by Environment America and its state affiliates. There are currently only three major wind facilities in New Hampshire, which provide 1.5 percent of the state’s energy, or about 260,000 megawatt hours of electricity. That’s the equivalent of taking 32,764 cars off the road, and saving 70,265,000 gallons of water per year, according to the report.

“Wind energy is a critical component of New Hampshire’s renewable energy commitment,” said Madeline Page of Environment New Hampshire during a conference call with reporters Tuesday, to release the report. “Transitioning us to a cleaner, greener, healthier state.”

Should the Antrim project be approved to move forward, it’s estimated it would save a further 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 17.5 million gallons of water annually, according to Eolian CEO Jack Kenworthy.

Critics, however, argue that the intermittent nature of wind energy, and its impact on views and landscape, make it an unreliable and ill-advised energy source.

During a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Kenworthy and other wind supporters spoke out against the proposed moratorium. Kenworthy noted that the process to gain approval for a large-scale wind facility is already a long and in-depth one, and even a short moratorium could have severe long-term effects when it comes to getting wind projects off the ground.

State Representative Bob Backus, a Manchester Democrat, who also participated in the conference call, said that he disagreed with the moratorium. Wind will be an important part of the state reaching its goal of obtaining 25 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources in the next 11 years.

“There is no problem-free source of energy, and that is certainly true of wind,” said Backus. However, wind’s environmental benefits and lack of harmful waste that is produced by sources such as nuclear energy make it an attractive part of the state’s energy future.

But he would like to see the process for approval of wind turbines reviewed, he said.

Christophe Courchesne, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation New Hampshire, said he agreed that the approval process – particularly for siting projects, could stand to be improved. Among suggestions for improvement of the process was making the evaluation board smaller. The current Site Evaluation Committee is made up of members from multiple area agencies, and some stakeholders believe the committee should be streamlined, he said. Additionally, in the current process, there is a lot of input from communities, and that is an area that should continue to strengthen, he added.