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Editorial: State needs plan for cleaner energy

The proposed 10-turbine Antrim wind farm may not officially be dead, but it’s at best on life support after having been dealt a blow by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, which has jurisdiction over the project.

Eolian Renewable Energy, the Portsmouth-based company that was behind the project, may not have the legs or the deep pockets to keep pushing for this particular 30-megawatt capacity development atop pristine Tuttle Hill in Antrim. Or once the detailed ruling is posted by the SEC, they may come to realize it’s a futile effort to invest more dollars in that particular site.

But the last few years of debate and divisiveness hopefully come with some lessons learned and a continued acknowledgment that we must make a commitment to renewable sources of energy if we ever really want to loosen the grip that the fossil fuels industry has on our economy.

It’s clear from the testimony received by the SEC that the site of this proposed development would have been disruptive from a conservation perspective as well as for atheistic reasons. But to what length will we go to protect what we have in our backyard while we ignore where our energy really comes from?

Our state’s largest power plant is the 440-MW Merrimack Station, a massive coal-fired plant that operates 24 hours a day, every day. It’s billed by PSNH as environmentally friendly since it meets or exceeds state and federal guidelines. But the Environmental Protection Agency is leading the charge to restrict power plant emissions amid fierce legislative opposition.

Despite its current reliance on coal, New Hampshire, fortunately, is on the cutting edge of emissions reduction with its participation in the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which steers power producers toward cleaner energy with a market-based approach. On Thursday, the group that includes all six New England States plus New York, Maryland and Delaware, proposed to cut the allowable yearly power plant emissions across the states by 45 percent, from 165 million tons of CO2 to 91 million tons by 2014. There would be further yearly reductions through 2020.

This proposal still needs to be approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan. However, the legislation faces a more welcoming Legislature than it did two years ago when House and Senate Republicans tried to force the state out of the cooperative. Only a veto from then-Gov. John Lynch kept New Hampshire in the program. A similar exit strategy in New Jersey did succeed, bringing the total participation from 10 states down to its current nine.

Cleaner energy — whether by massive wind towers, sprawling solar farms, or obtrusive transmission lines designed to link the state to Canadian hydro sources — will become a larger part of the state energy mix and economy. The question is can it happen in a way that will preserve our land, our quality of life and, perhaps, our views.

We hope the state takes this opportunity to work to develop a better statewide energy strategy that clearly defines which types of renewable energy it wants, how much and where it can be built. That would allow developers to enter the state with a clear understanding of what they can deliver and where. And it would ensure that these lengthy processes don’t go for naught. Because in Antrim, years after it began, the project has been a financial black hole for all sides, and we’re no closer to bringing cleaner energy to our residents.

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