NH Legislature considers new guidelines to regulate state wind energy

April 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

When Michael Marino built his house in Holderness almost 20 years ago, he had a 180-degree view of the mountains. Now during the day, he said, the view includes 23 windmills. At night, he sees 12 to 15 lights blinking atop the machines.

If the wind turbines had been there, “I would have never bought this property,” Marino said. “If you keep allowing these windmills to ruin our beautiful mountaintops, it is really a disgrace.”

Marino was one of many people who testified at a House hearing yesterday in support of a bill that would establish new guidelines for future wind energy projects. The legislation passed the Senate last month.

The bill would give the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, which is tasked with approving energy projects, a series of guidelines to address when siting new “large wind energy systems” that have a generating capacity of more than 100 kilowatts.

According to the proposed guidelines, the SEC would need to consider the effects of wind farms on homeowners, natural scenery, wildlife and the visual impact of the turbines within a 10-mile range, among other things. It also calls on wind projects to provide a fire protection plan and use the best available science and technology in construction.

Wind power has become a divisive issue in the state. Recently, several towns have voted to establish local rights to rule over renewable energy projects.

New Hampshire already has a few operational wind energy projects, including Granite Reliable Power wind farm in Coos County, Lempster Wind and Groton Wind. There are no wind projects currently in the siting process, said Timothy Drew of the state’s Department of Environmental Services.

The majority of residents and lawmakers who spoke at the hearing voiced support for the bill and raised concerns about wind power, including loud noise, decreases in property value and tourism revenue and destruction of the natural habitat.

“There may be a place for wind in New Hampshire,” said Rep. Suzanne Smith, a Hebron Democrat who said she has heard complaints from her constituents about the whirring sounds and vibrations of the turbines. But without the criteria, it is creating “frustrated residents, dissatisfied developers and an overworked SEC.”

Members of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, which hosted the hearing, raised questions about the size of wind farms regulated by the bill and whether the guidelines would serve as a way to block all future wind development.

It’s “not meant to be a moratorium,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican and the bill’s sponsor. “It’s meant to have some criteria in place for the SEC to judge whether (the wind farms) are in the public interest or not.”

Concord-based attorney Doug Patch, representing Wagner Forest Management, a company with ties to wind energy, said he worried the bill could act as a moratorium and that it could drive away developers.

Patch, along with a few other opponents of the bill, said this legislation overlaps with Senate Bill 99, which the Legislature passed last year calling on the SEC to adopt rules by January 2015.

“The language instructs the SEC to ‘address’ nine additional specific topics, many of which are highly subjective and which would be included in the SB 99 process,” he said. “For many of these nine, there is no guidance given and thus this bill serves to increase uncertainty rather than decrease uncertainty.”

Testimony on the bill lasted more than four hours, with representatives taking a break in between and coming back in the afternoon to accommodate more speakers.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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