BRISTOL — Backers say they hope they have the votes to pass a bill calling for a one-year moratorium on new wind turbine plants and electric transmission line projects.
They failed to muster enough votes for a similar bill last year.
House Bill 580 calls for the moratoriums until the state issues a comprehensive energy plan. If passed, the Site Evaluation Committee, the authority for permitting such projects, will be ordered to issue no certificates for projects until the moratorium is lifted.
The bill comes as the state, under Senate Bill 99, is studying the Site Evaluation Committee and its process and developing regulatory criteria for the siting of energy facilities.
The vote also comes about a month after Iberdrola Renewables submitted an application for its proposed 23-turbine Wild Meadows Wind Farm in the towns of Danbury and Alexandria. Both towns have gone on record opposing the project, as has the Appalachian Mountain Club, New Hampshire Wind Watch and several other organizations.
Supporters of the moratorium argue that the Site Evaluation Committee needs a defined energy policy and new siting guidelines before permitting new projects, and some say no projects should be permitted while the committee itself is under scrutiny through SB 99.
“The emails I’ve received from my constituents have been about 100 to 1 in favor of the moratorium; it makes sense for people to wait,” said Rep. Harold Reilly, R-Bristol, one of HB 580’s sponsors. “They aren’t believing all this talk that a moratorium is the end of the world.”
Green = money
Reilly said many opposing the moratorium say wind power is “green,” while what’s really at stake is money.
“It can’t hurt to wait; those who can’t wait are talking ‘green,’ when the only green they are waiting for is cash,” he said.
Reilly said that while his bill could apply to Northern Pass, he will introduce an amendment before the vote to make the moratorium apply strictly to wind power projects.
Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-District 4, said the moratorium makes “common sense.”
“The Legislature and governor last year agreed that changes are needed in our energy policy and siting rules. In the required citizen workshops held this fall, the vast majority of all participants support linking siting rules to a new policy and more public participation. It is just common sense that with this overwhelming support for change that new projects be held until those changes can be put in place,” he said.
Lack of local control
A sore spot among opponents of the Wild Meadows plan is the lack of local control. The company proposing the plant has secured leases with private landowners, and the Site Evaluation Committee is the permitting authority. The towns are guaranteed some input in the form of “a seat at the table” in the committee’s process, but town votes and decisions are in no way binding.
Rep. Bob Backus, D-District 19, said he opposes the moratorium because some communities — Berlin for example — have expressed interest in wind power, and they should not have to wait. In addition, he said, the state needs to add renewable energy sources to meet its stated needs in the future.
“The state has the key interest here,” Backus said. “We can’t just hand the keys to these things over to the towns.”
Backus said he isn’t opposed to Wild Meadows.
“We should look carefully at it, but we need to look at it,” he said. “Wind power brings us renewable energy without all the toxic waste you get from other forms of power.”
As to the residents in towns around Newfound Lake and Cardigan Mountain who worry about what they see as ugly 492-foot lighted wind towers lining their scenic vistas, Backus said that sentiment may be overstated. He said worries expressed by opponents that the towers may drop property values and hurt the area’s tourism economy are questionable.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; not everyone thinks (wind towers) are ugly,” he said.
Iberdrola Renewables’ Paul Copleman said his company opposes a moratorium.
“The idea that the Legislature is considering a moratorium creates uncertainty when companies are considering significant long-term investments in the state,” Copleman said.