A former state representative is calling on local officials to denounce a proposal for offshore wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine he believes could hurt tourism in the Seacoast.
Fred Rice, a retired representative from Hampton, called for the Hampton Beach Village District commissioners at their last meeting to oppose offshore wind, a proposal being examined by a newly formed three-state federal task force.
The turbines are expected to lower greenhouse gas emissions and create thousands of jobs, and Gov. Chris Sununu has said the proposal has “tremendous potential.” Some local officials, like in Seabrook, have expressed concerns about their impact on wildlife, the fishing community and overall impact on Seacoast towns.
Rice told commissioners at their Dec. 11 meeting the turbines would mar New Hampshire’s ocean view for tourists if visible from shore. He likened it to the Northern Pass proposal to carry hydropower from Canada through the White Mountains, which was denied last year by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee after opposition by forest protection advocates.
Rice opposed the Northern Pass project while in the House from 2010 to 2016 because of the impact the 400-foot electrical towers would have on the mountain views in northern New Hampshire. He said this week he believes tourists who come to Hampton Beach might be similarly turned off by “little match sticks” along the horizon line next to the Isles of Shoals.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense. They could be killing one of the biggest cash cows that we have,” Rice told commissioners Dec. 11. “I think you guys have got to get up and start the fight early.”
Commissioners took no vote in their meeting in December on the turbines, and Commissioner Robert Ladd said this week they still need to research the issue before taking a stand. He said he would want to see a study to determine if wind turbines 3 to 10 miles off shore would deter tourists from coming to New Hampshire’s beaches.
“It’s the first game of preseason on that issue,” said Ladd. “It’s a long way to run, and public opinion on the beach has not formed yet.”
The Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force, which held its first meeting in Durham last month, is comprised of elected officials from New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. New Hampshire’s participation in the committee is being led by the New Hampshire Office of Strategic Initiatives.
Granite State lawmakers on the task force include state Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, and state Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton. State Rep. Aboul Khan, R-Seabrook, stepped down from the task force because it lacked direct representation from New Hampshire fishermen, many of whom live in Seabrook.
Also a Seabook selectman, Khan’s board sent a letter to the OSI saying they would suspend the town’s participation in the task force. Selectman Theresa Kyle said she was also concerned about the size of the turbines, their harm to wildlife and the potential for noise from the turbines to impact quality of life for residents.
Hampton voters approved a warrant article in 2018 calling for the governor to have New Hampshire join Massachusetts and Maine in studying the feasibility of offshore wind. The citizen petition, which had no binding language, passed 1,792 to 755 and argued floating wind turbines in federal waters would help New Hampshire move toward 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Other Hampton officials reached this week said they were not ready to take a stance on the wind turbines like their neighbors in Seabrook. Nancy Stiles, a former state senator who now chairs the Hampton Beach Area Commission, said the topic will be discussed at the HBAC meeting Jan. 30 in which lawmakers will be invited to broadly discuss their efforts in Concord.
“I need to know more about what the plan is,” said Stiles, whose commission is responsible for overseeing updates to the Hampton Beach Master Plan. She said Hampton tourism is “right at the top” among her concerns regarding the turbines, as are local fishermen and overall costs to the state.
Some local business owners doubt the wind turbines would impact tourism at the beach. Tom McGuirk, a Realtor who owns McGuirk’s Ocean View at Hampton Beach, said the wind turbines won’t keep people from coming to the beach to enjoy the sun and sand.
“All I know for wind is when I go into Newburyport where they have that big huge windmill, that doesn’t seem to bother me,” McGuirk said. “We have a nuclear power plant in our backyard. That doesn’t affect business. You’d think that would be something people are more concerned about.”
Rice disagreed, saying tourists don’t actually see the nuclear power plant given the plant’s location across the marsh behind the beach.
Others in Hampton who oppose the wind turbines include commercial fisherman David Goethel, who fears the turbines will make it harder for the already struggling fishing industry to stay afloat. He said he is optimistic opponents of the turbines will have their voices heard.
“We defeated Aristotle Onassis when he wanted to build an oil refinery on the Isle of Shoals,” Goethel said. “I don’t see the wind farms being any different.”
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