June 12. 2013 8:53PM

Governor to get bill to study changes to way Northern Pass, wind farms are sited

State House Bureau

CONCORD — A bill to revamp the criteria for siting large energy projects is headed to the governor's desk.

Originally Senate Bill 99 would have established a one-year moratorium that would have halted the Northern Pass transmission project and numerous proposed wind farms.

Instead, the Senate's voice vote Wednesday established two study committees to review the state Site Evaluation Committee's ability and capacity to do its job and the criteria for siting wind farms and new electric generation and transmission facilities.

Several senators objected, saying this would result in a de facto moratorium on large energy projects.

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, D-Manchester, called the bill's time lines unrealistic. The study is to be completed by Dec. 31; it could take another year to adopt new regulatory criteria.

"This body overwhelmingly opposed a moratorium," he said. "By concurring, you are enacting a de facto moratorium."

But one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Jeff Woodburn, R-Dalton, urged the Senate to approve the House changes so the study could begin as soon as possible — along with changes to the site evaluation process.

"A longer study hall does not guarantee better grades," Woodburn said, noting he is a former school teacher.

In the end, the Senate agreed to the House version of the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said it is "absolutely essential" to have a study, particularly of projects like Northern Pass and the wind farms proposed around the Newfound Lake area.

"This can't happen fast enough because we don't have good siting criteria," he said.

He argued the bill is not a de facto moratorium. Instead, he said, proposed changes will affect any developer proposing a future project.

The bill requires an outside consultant be hired to study the state's Site Evaluation Committee's process, needs and requirements, and to develop regulatory criteria.