House to vote on wind farm bill - Legislation would form committee to study impacts

LEMPSTER — The House will consider legislation today establishing a committee to study the effects of wind farms, a vote that could shape the future of wind energy in New Hampshire.

The bill, first put forward by Rep. John Ward, R-Littleton, proposes bringing together three state representatives and one state senator to consider the impact wind energy facilities would have on a variety of elements such as noise, ridgelines, wildlife, tax revenue generation and jobs. The report would be due Nov. 1.

Community Energy Inc., the company proposing 12 wind turbines along the Lempster Mountain ridgeline, originally did not support the bill. Lempster project manager Jeff Keeler spoke before the Science, Energy and Technology Committee in January, and told the committee that the areas to be studied were not broad enough and did not include such things as low environmental impacts, public benefits and contribution to energy markets.

“Our concern was really that it take a more balanced approach, that it not look at all the negatives,” Keeler said Monday. “Overall, I think that there were some improvements made to the bill.”

The committee approved the bill with some amendments late last month. In addition to ridgeline impacts, health and safety effects, environmental concerns and distribution and sale of electricity, the study is to include “quality of life issues related to wind facilities in the community, including but not limited to, economic opportunities, jobs, tax revenue generation, effects on property values, effects on views, tourism and wildlife.”

When the committee amended the bill, the goal was to make the proposal more balanced, said Rep. Larry Ross, R-Peterborough, who is the science committee’s chairman.

“The original bill was oriented mostly to the environmental side,” he said.

Keeler said if the bill is passed, he would like to see some legislative direction on state oversight of small wind projects.

“I’m positive on letting legislation like this go,” he said. “It can add clarity to the process.”

Currently, the state Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) is the only entity specifically tasked to review energy projects 30 megawatts or larger. The committee was created in the 1970s after state officials realized there was no oversight when oil tycoon Aristotle Onassis proposed an off-shore refinery.

In December, Lempster town officials requested SEC review of Community Energy’s proposed 24-megawatt project. The process cannot begin, however, until a second request is made by either a neighboring town or a group of taxpayers.

Despite what those opposing wind projects throughout New England have said about the negative impacts on wildlife, quality of life and benefits, Keeler said there are positive aspects that should be taken into consideration.

On March 14, Lyman, N.H., residents will vote on articles seeking to stop commercial wind projects from coming into town. In 2004, a project similar in size to Lempster’s was dropped after it ran into stiff opposition. Lyman resident Lisa Linowes, one of those opposing the project in her town, has since joined National Wind Watch, a non-profit wind energy watchdog, and worked with Ward to craft the original language in the legislation to be voted on today.

“(Lyman’s vote) will certainly add interest in legislation like this,” Keeler said. “It certainly will have an effect on this kind of legislation.”

Rep. Arthur Jillette, D-Goshen, said Monday he will likely vote in favor of the legislation. He said it is likely to pass because the vote to pass it out of committee was unanimous.

“We’ve got to look at it in terms of how does it work in New Hampshire and how it’s going to affect towns that have wind turbine plans and what it then produces,” he said. “On the one hand, a study committee is costly in terms of people’s time or energy, but a lot of times it can sort of get all the information out on the table so that people can make better decisions.”

If the bill to create the committee passes the House, it will still need to be voted on by the Senate.


MAR 7 2006
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