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Column: Senate debate over wind moratorium ‘white hot’

When it was over, the Senate Majority Leader called the speeches “white hot.”

The issue was a proposed moratorium on Northern Pass, the plan to build a transmission line through northern New Hampshire to bring hydro power from Quebec to New England.

On a prior motion, by voice vote, an amendment failed that would have banned the state’s Site Evaluation Commission from accepting any new applications for construction of wind farms or issuing certificates of approval for any projects currently before the SEC.

I have to say I smile a bit when a lobbyist or citizen comes to me complaining about new wind projects. Some of these people were the same ones that were so enthusiastic about wind power when the first commercial wind farm was proposed, approved and built in Lempster. I could be more caustic but back in those days the conversation was about the value of having renewable energy production, and wind power offered just that.

Recently, a lobbyist for a major environmental organization met with me in my State House office. He favored the moratorium on new wind projects. When I noted his support for the 12 wind towers in Lempster when they were being considered, he replied that things had changed, that he still favored wind energy but “he could never have imagined that there would be so many wind farms proposed and built.” What he didn’t say but I will, is that the negatives on wind were amplified when wind farms were developed in high value real estate areas where towers can be seen from homes, often second homes, on prestigious lakes.

There are legitimate questions that can be raised around the siting of wind farms in New Hampshire including the commitment to a renewable energy source that relies on federal subsidies that make it profitable for developers. But the idea that the legislature would impose a year moratorium on all consideration of new wind farms is putting the government in a place to pick winners and losers in the production of renewable energy.

The state is committed to having 25 percent of our energy come from renewable sources by 2025. That will be a tough goal to meet in any event but eliminating renewable options could make it impossible to reach.

After the wind power moratorium died on a voice vote, things heated up. The senators representing the North Country and part of the Lakes Region, Sens. Jeff Woodburn (Dalton) and Jeannie Forester (Meredith) supported a moratorium on Northern Pass. They spoke of the negative impacts the very visible transmission lines would have on some of New Hampshire most pristine lands.

The senator representing Franklin, Andrew Hosmer (Laconia) where Northern Pass power would go through a transit point creating 500 new, permanent jobs talked about the positive impact the project would have for a struggling city and the people that live in the area. Sen. Martha Fuller Clark said the amendment was so broadly written that all new energy initiatives would fall under the moratorium. I suggested that a state imposed moratorium on one segment of the New Hampshire economy is not an appropriate way for state government to set policy. New energy today; what out of favor industry would be next?

In the end, when the roll was called there was a strong 20-4 vote against a moratorium on new energy initiatives.

Thanks to Francestown

Thanks to the Board of Selectmen in Francestown. Recently, they hosted a legislative forum so Francestown residents could hear from their senator and state representatives. The meeting room was nearly full and the questions to me and Rep. Steve Spratt (Greenville), Kermit Williams (Wilton) and Richard McNamara (Hillsborough) were right on target. Gas tax increase, expanded gambling, broad based taxes, the condition of roads and bridges (two town owned bridges are currently closed in Francestown) and jobs for young college graduates were on the minds of those attending.

New Hampshire citizens are well informed and interested in their state government. And they are not bashful about making their views known. Next forum for me is in Antrim, sponsored by the local Lions’ club, on April 18.

Bob Odell, a Republican, is the New Hampshire senator representing Antrim, Bennington and Francestown, among other towns.

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