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Editorial

Poll helps to define  energy challenge

You’d think proponents of wind power and those passionate about America’s pristine lands would walk hand-in-hand on the issue of renewable energy. You’d assume each side would see the value of a united front. And you’d hope they’d want to avoid the tedious process of appeals and litigation that only serves to maintain the status quo.

But energy is a complex business and clear allegiances are often hard to define. That’s why the Carsey Institute set out to measure New Hampshire sentiments with a poll that focuses on renewable energy, forestland and quality of life. It’s perhaps by understanding what it is that we all want that our state can begin to craft a meaningful path to actually getting there. Because so far, the only people who seem to be benefitting from a recent push to introduce more renewables are attorneys positioned on all sides.

The poll has some pretty interesting findings, but the overall sentiment is this: New Hampshire is not divided on the ideological issue of renewable energy. Rather, it is torn on where that issue ranks on a broader list of concerns. For instance, when Democrats were asked what should be a higher priority, increasing renewable energy or drilling for more fossil fuels like oil and natural gas, 86 percent pointed to more renewables. Among Independents, renewable energy was favored almost 2 to 1. Even Republicans — the party of “Drill, Baby, Drill” — showed strong support, with 44 percent favoring renewables, just behind the 51 percent that wanted to see drilling get a higher priority. So the case can certainly be made that New Hampshire wants more investments made in forms like solar, wind, hydro, biomass and tidal energy.

So what’s holding back development? New Hampshire residents also dearly prize open space for a host of reasons — clean water, recreational opportunities, protection of the ecosystems and aethstetic value, to name just a few. Clean water and scenic value were deemed the most important by those who responded.

We’ve seen the divide rising above the pristine ridgetops of the Monadnock region. Antrim Wind has become to the forested part of this state what Cape Wind long ago became for the beautiful open waters of Nantucket Sound. It’s become a battleground that pits a broader need for change with a more local desire to conserve. Cape Wind, which long ago proposed to put giant wind turbines in what would be the country’s first offshore wind farm, has ever so steadily moved toward reality, though it’s come with endless court battles and fierce opposition. Antrim Wind, though far smaller, has also faced its share of hurdles, and now it may have to pin its hopes on a favorable ruling from the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Timbertop Wind, which has pushed for an even smaller development that would straddle New Ipswich and Temple seems destined to permanently stall after the state refused to take jurisdiction away from towns that have indicated they don’t want the development.

So we’re left with no significant projects on the horizon and no real solutions in sight. New Hampshire needs to address this issue so we can push ahead with legitimate projects in areas that are determined to have a low impact on environment and quality of life. Developers need a clear indication of where they can build, so they can bring the types of projects — and jobs — that our residents clearly want. And the state needs to set real standards and an achievable path that will give our residents a sustainable energy portfolio and stable costs. If not, we’ll continue to see would-be allies battling on opposite sides of the aisle.

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