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Plymouth hosts hearing on bill for tougher scrutiny of power projects such as Northern Pass

Union Leader Correspondent

December 18. 2013 6:23PM

PLYMOUTH — High-profile energy projects coming before the state's Site Evaluation Committee require a deeper study of their effect on New Hampshire's dependence on tourism, more involvement from residents and more emphasis on "need" as a factor in approving projects, many speakers at a "listening session" said Wednesday.

About 75 people came to the session on Senate Bill 99, which calls for a study of the SEC — the state's authority in siting proposed large power projects such as Northern Pass and wind farms — to see if it can be better organized and staffed.

"New Hampshire has a heritage, and it's our landscape; it's a deep, deep part of the state," said Nancy Martin. "An SEC process should codify that somehow — what is the value of a project to not only the developer and landowners, but to the rest of us and to our state, and our landscape."

Art Cote agreed, and cited the SEC's responsibility in siting power projects in areas where they could negatively affect tourism, property values and what residents values. He made reference to the proposed Wild Meadows wind farm, which is close to Newfound Lake.

"This is a tourist state. I don't think we should be putting wind farms around one of our lakes," he said. "I hope they aren't going to allow (wind farms) up on (Mount) Chocorua or on Lake Winnipesaukee."

"In New Hampshire, we need to make sure that we aren't collateral damage for what (the SEC) considers the greater good."

The meeting was run by representatives of the Office of Energy and Planning, which has conducted several such meetings and workshops around the state in recent weeks to get input on SB 99. OEP officials must complete a report on their findings by Dec. 31.

Chris Roukes said the current SEC, which has 12 members who are state agency and department heads, should be studied carefully before abandoning the system.

"My concern is with the devil we know and the devil we don't know, which would be the new SEC system," he said. "We may not want to abandon the devil we know."

Peter Martin said the public should be involved in the new SEC, if a decision is made to change the system.

"Speculative corporate projects should be placed (on town warrants) as warrant articles," he said. "The public should be first among stockholders; it's time for the people to have the last word."

Joanna Tuveson said the current SEC favors developers. "Many of us feel the current system is weighted heavily toward the developers," she said.

Will Abbott of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests made the point that now, "the SEC essentially overrides local zoning," leaving local communities with little governmental power over new power projects.

Cote told those at the session who are against new power projects that they need to work hard, because their views are not commonly held.

"The climate is not good for our argument," he said. "It's hard to be against sustainable energy, everyone wants to be green."

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