Members of New Hampshire Wind Watch and a state senator are raising concerns over Gov. Maggie Hassan’s decision to nominate state Sen. Bob Odell as one of the first public members to sit on the committee charged with permitting any future wind farms in the state.
“New Hampshire Wind Watch is appalled by the governor’s selection,” said Lori Lerner, president of the group that aims to educate people about the effects of industrial wind projects in the state. The public member is meant be a citizen affected by the energy projects, Lerner said. “The intent was never to have legislators or additional state officials in the process.”
Last week, Hassan nominated Odell, an outgoing New London Republican, to serve a four-year term on the recently reorganized Site Evaluation Committee, which sites and permits commercial-scale energy projects in New Hampshire. Odell announced earlier this year he wouldn’t seek another term in the Senate.
The Legislature elected this year to slim down the Site Evaluation Committee to nine members, from 15, and to add public representatives to the panel, which is primarily made up of state agency officials.
In addition to Odell, Hassan also nominated state Rep. Amanda Merrill, a Durham Democrat, to serve a two-year term as an alternative public member. One of the public representatives must be an attorney, and Hassan still has yet to nominate a candidate to fill that position. The Executive Council must approve all three candidates by its meeting Wednesday.
Wind Watch isn’t the only group concerned about Odell’s nomination; a state senator in his own party has also spoken out against the move.
“There is lack of trust everywhere. The (new legislation) was meant to truly have a grass-roots representation on the SEC,” said state Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican and prime sponsor of the SEC reorganization bill. “In my mind that meant somebody like a planning board member or a selectman or a zoning board member . . . somebody who represents the community. It’s not a slight at all on Sen. Odell – it is not what I had intended.”
Odell did not return a call for comment.
In the lead-up to the Executive Council meeting, Wind Watch has been encouraging its followers across the state to call their executive councilors and Hassan’s office to express their concerns.
The group launched in early 2013 and now has roughly 2,500 members, Lerner said. In the past, the group has opposed wind projects in the state, including Iberdrola Renewables’s proposed $150 million Wild Meadows project in the Danbury area. The Spanish company withdrew its proposal this year and Wind Watch threw a victory party.
Lerner said she hopes the public member would be from an area that is underrepresented on the SEC, such as the North Country.
“It would be beneficial if we could have a person who is being impacted by all of these energy projects, to be able to represent the people,” she said.
The new makeup of the SEC will help ensure the energy siting process includes input from local communities, said Hassan’s spokesman William Hinkle in a statement.
“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,” Hinkle 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.”
Forrester said she is hopeful Hassan and the Executive Council will listen to public opinion on the nominations. “People are very, very upset about this,” she said. “Hopefully they find someone who truly represents the public.”