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Gov. Maggie Hassan names Sen. Bob Odell and Rep. Amanda Merrill to committee that permits Northern Pass and wind projects

Gov. Maggie Hassan has nominated Republican state Sen. Bob Odell and Democratic state Rep. Amanda Merrill to sit on the committee in charge of permitting Northern Pass and any future wind farms or pipeline projects in the state.

The legislators would be among the first public members to serve on the newly reorganized Site Evaluation Committee that sites and permits commercial-scale energy projects in New Hampshire.

This year, the Legislature voted to slim down the committee from 15 members to nine and to add new public representatives to the group, which is primarily made up of state agency officials. One of the public members must be an attorney. Hassan has yet to nominate a candidate to fill that position.

Hassan nominated Odell, of Lempster, N.H., to serve a four-year term on the SEC. She named Merrill, of Durham, N.H., an alternate member to serve a two-year term. The Executive Council must approve all three candidates at or before its next meeting on Oct. 1.

Odell, who is vice chairman of the Energy & Natural Resources Senate Committee, said the biggest challenge confronting the SEC is maintaining balance.

“There needs to be balance between the views of people who are favorable and unfavorable to any new project,” Odell said, adding that he would look forward to serving on the SEC if confirmed. “It’s important members of the committee be thoughtful, and make decisions based on facts.”

The six-term state senator announced this spring that he wouldn’t seek re-election. As a senator, Odell has worked on the state’s 10-year energy strategy, which was released this month.

Odell said he didn’t have a stand on the Northern Pass transmission project because it hasn’t yet come before the SEC.

On the role of wind power in the state’s energy portfolio, Odell said an array of energy options are available to the state. “We’ll have to look at those as they come forward one-by-one,” he said.

“I’m happy to be nominated,” Merrill, a former state senator who won a special election in December to serve as a state representative, said. “It’s an important role, and interesting.”

She said she has been interested in energy efficiency legislation, but wouldn’t comment on the role of wind in the state’s energy mix or on Northern Pass.

“The job is to look at specifics of the proposal for the applications that come before [the committee],” she said.

Hassan is working to nominate an attorney to the committee by the Oct. 1 deadline set by recent SEC legislation, said spokesman William Hinkle.

Finding an attorney to fill the role may be tough, said Jim O’Brien of the state’s chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

“Many attorneys who have this expertise have represented energy clients where there would be a conflict,” he said.

If the executive council confirms Odell and Merrill the committee would have the necessary seven-member-quorum to hold meetings, Hinkle said.

The committee’s membership also includes the Department of Environmental Services Commissioner, Department of Resources of Economic Development Commissioner, and the Commissioners of the Public Utilities Commission, among others.

This week, Hassan nominated the Chairwoman of the PUC – who would have served as chair of the SEC – to serve on the Superior Court.