Unquestionably, the siting of large energy projects can be controversial. Proposals to construct commercial scale wind farms, transmission lines and gas and oil pipelines may at times result in disputes between groups who view such projects as either essential pieces of a strong economy or harmful blights on the environment and communities which play host to them.
Resolving these clashes of opinion requires a venue where all parties are provided the chance to present their views. It is here where the conflicting and often complex documentation can be objectively analyzed and thoughtfully considered. This is the essence of due process.
The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, statutorily charged with determining whether an energy facility is in the best interests of our state, is there to ensure that all members of the public, opponents and supporters alike, are given due process in these matters. House Bill 1358, under debate in the N.H. House of Representatives, would undermine the SEC’s ability to carry out this fundamentally important role. If passed into law, the bill would require the SEC to issue a certificate for an energy facility within 365 days of accepting an energy facility application — too short a time frame in which to adequately scrutinize all issues that may arise regarding a large-scale project.
While HB 1358 gives the SEC the authority to extend the deadline for up to an additional 120 days, that would only occur if no party objects. Because it is hard to envision a scenario where an energy developer would willingly or easily agree to such an extension, this automatic approval process is really designed to restrict the public’s participation in the SEC’s deliberations.
Furthermore, the SEC’s rules and laws are designed to give the SEC, intervenors and the public a road map to determine the benefits and impacts a specific energy facility proposal may have on our state. They are not there, as this bill apparently has concluded, to automatically assume such a project will have no unreasonable adverse impacts. The SEC must give “due consideration” to all the relevant information an applicant and intervenors present before it can make the four statutorily required findings. Again, HB 1358 undermines this central purpose.
We would note that only four years ago, the Legislature approved major changes to the Site Evaluation Committee’s governing statute. The goal then, as it should continue to be today, is to increase the public’s ability to participate in the SEC process. House Bill 1358 backtracks on that promise. Instead, it ignores that the burden of proof is on the energy project developer to demonstrate its project is beneficial — not on the public to show that it isn’t. A project that truly is in the public’s interest should be able to withstand such scrutiny.
On March 15, the N.H. House of Representatives will vote on the bill. If you share these concerns, please let your elected representative in the House know you oppose HB 1358. Tell them you are against any attempts to limit the ability of citizens and communities to engage in a process where the outcome could have significant impacts on the well-being of our state.
Matt Leahy is public policy manager for the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests