ALEXANDRIA – Gov. Maggie Hassan’s nomination of state Sen. Bob Odell to sit on the committee in charge of permitting future wind farms in the state has caused concern among groups that have opposed “industrial wind” projects in the state, as well as at least one state legislator.
Odell, R-New London, has been nominated to serve a four-year term on the Site Evaluation Committee, which is in the process of being reorganized. Hassan also nominated Rep. Amanda Merrill, D-Durham, as an alternate member to serve a two-year term.
The Executive Council will be asked to approve the candidates in the next few days, or at its next meeting on Oct. 1.
This year, the Legislature through Senate Bill 245 decided to add new public representatives to the SEC, which is at present mostly made up of state agency department heads. Legislators have been studying the SEC for improvements, as they are concerned that the committee, which is also charged with site approval on projects like Northern Pass, is overburdened, understaffed, and in need of more public involvement.
In what it calls a “grass-roots campaign” aimed at having Odell withdrawn by the governor, New Hampshire Wind Watch, an organization dedicated to providing education and information about what it calls “industrial wind power” projects in the state, noted that Odell is from Lempster, which “hosts the first grid-scale wind project in New Hampshire.”
The Lempster Mountain Wind Power Project, a 24-megawatt, 12-turbine plant built by Spanish wind farm giant Iberdrola Renewables in 2008, “was widely promoted” by Odell, according to Wind Watch president Lori Lerner.
“New Hampshire Wind Watch is appalled by the governor’s selection,” Lerner said.
“It was evident throughout the many hearings and committee meetings leading to SB 245’s passage that the Legislature wanted to invite greater public involvement of those who ultimately must live with the decisions of the SEC. We need fresh eyes on the SEC and the sense that the ‘public’ is really being represented. Senator Odell’s nomination flies in the face of that intent.”
State Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith and a sponsor of Senate Bill 245, agreed.
“I have the highest respect for Sen. Odell, but am deeply disappointed that the governor did not appoint a member of the public to represent the public interest,” she said.
“The legislative body, along with interested parties, worked long and hard to assure there was more grassroots public representation on the Site Evaluation Committee. I am surprised the governor does not understand the very real importance of this representation on the Site Evaluation Committee.”
Lisa Linowes, executive director of the Wind-action group, which tracks and reports on impacts and policies related to wind energy development nationwide, was also critical of the nomination.
“It is critical that the governor appoint someone who can engender trust in the process. Senator Odell represents three communities where wind projects have been built or proposed, Lempster, Antrim and Newport. Regardless his position on wind energy, I do not see him as an unbiased, open-minded candidate,” Linowes said.
Odell did not return calls to his office seeking comment Tuesday. Hassan’s press secretary, William Hinkle, did respond, saying the governor “remains committed to strengthening efforts to ensure that the voices of local communities are heard throughout the siting process.”
“The new makeup of the Site Evaluation Committee helps ensure that the siting process for new energy projects includes the views of local communities and protects what makes our state special. As well-respected, retiring legislators, Bob Odell and Amanda Merrill have invaluable experience representing the views of the public on the important issues that face the SEC, including their work as members of energy and environment committees,” he said.
“Governor Hassan believes that their experience, temperament and commitment to fairness will be assets as we pursue an energy strategy that will reduce costs and pollution, create jobs and improve reliability and diversity while protecting the natural resources that define us as a state.”