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Negotiators agree on New Hampshire wind farm criteria and divestiture

CONCORD – House and Senate negotiators agreed on a bill that would have state utility regulators determine if Public Service of New Hampshire should sell its fossil-fuel generating plants and establishes new criteria for approving wind turbine projects.

Under House Bill 1602, the Public Utilities Commission would determine if PSNH should divest, modify or retire its generating facilities, submitting a progress report to the Legislative Oversight Committee on Electric Utility Restructuring by March 31, 2015.

The electric utility would be allowed to recover its stranded costs due to the divestiture or retirement under the bill.

Several House members were concerned the Senate version of the bill does not include the retirement of the plants under the PUC’s authority, and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said retirement would drive up the stranded costs PSNH would be allowed to charge ratepayers. If the plants are sold, stranded costs would be less, he said.

Ann Ross, PUC general counsel, said the commission has other tools to pressure PSNH to retire generating assets, noting they have to be “used and useful” in order to charge ratepayers for their operation.

House negotiator Bob Backus, D-Manchester, asked if the commission would use the tool to force retirement if a facility is not longer economically viable.

Ross noted the commission is currently determining how much of the cost of the Merrimack Station air emissions scrubber consumers will have to pay.

“That is hard-fought litigation,” Ross said. “It would probably be a similar situation if the commission determined plants are not usable or not economic.”

The bill also establishes new guidelines for siting wind energy systems, including setback requirements, noise, shadow flicker, ice throw, sound, impacts on plants and wildlife, fire protection and decommissioning costs.

Negotiators decided to eliminate from the criteria the impact of turbine vibrations.

Bradley said there had been a lot of discussion about what vibration impact is and if experts exist to measure their impact on neighborhoods.

“Low frequency sound is covered and is measurable and is currently being done,” Bradley said.

House member Rep. Laurence Rappaport, R-Colebrook, noted low-frequencies cannot be heard but do have an impact on people, saying that should be one of the criteria.

Applicants would also be required to use the best practices of the industry going forward.

The bill also requires the Site Evaluation Committee to make its decision based on the “best available evidence.”

Lawmakers have revamped the Site Evaluation Committee and the process its uses to determine whether to approve applicants over the last two years.

The committee was inundated with wind turbine projects and is about to embark on the Northern Pass electric transmission project once it receives the federal okay.

HB 1602 deals with wind projects before the Site Evaluation Committee.

The House and Senate will have to vote on the compromise next week.