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Editorial: Planning New Hampshire’s energy future

New Hampshire needs a new state energy plan to ensure that fuel and power supplies are adequate and the sources of that energy varied and as environmentally responsible as possible. That means maximizing renewable energy sources, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and making sure that energy is used with maximum efficiency. Unlike the current energy plan, a rather vague and aspirational document, the new plan should contain firm recommendations for steps lawmakers and the private sector to pursue.

New Hampshire also needs one or more state energy corridors. More about that later. What it doesn’t need is what several bills before the Legislature seek: a moratorium on all electric transmission lines and wind power projects. Above all, lawmakers would be foolhardy to grant cities and towns veto power over state approval of wind farms and transmission lines. Doing so would render moot major elements of any state energy plan, create a regulatory nightmare, discourage or kill alternative energy development, endanger the state’s economy and potentially pit neighboring communities against each other.

The state has rules and a process for siting new transmission lines and wind farms and several projects in the works, most notably the Northern Pass transmission line to carry power south from Hydro Quebec. Declaring a moratorium on those would change the rules with the game under way and discourage future energy development. What company or investor would want to go to the expense of following a lengthy regulatory process when a new set of lawmakers could pull the rug out from under them at any moment with a moratorium or a rules change?

The rules for siting wind farms and other projects aren’t perfect. They should, for example, do more to consider the cumulative impact of multiple projects like the three large wind turbine projects built or proposed near Newfound Lake. But changes to them should affect future proposals, not those already on the table.

As for an energy corridor, New Hampshire has fallen behind. To the west, the $2.2 billion Champlain Hudson Power Express project plans to install a 5-inch, 1,000-megawatt direct-current underground cable that will run beneath Lake Champlain and under railroad rights of way and public roads. It is scheduled to go into service in 2017. Communities along the cable route, as well as the state of New York, will collect considerable property tax revenue from the line.

To the east, Maine is working with energy companies on the Northeast Energy Link, a 230-mile, 1,100-megawatt underground DC transmission line that will run under existing transportation corridors in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

In New Hampshire, state Sen. Jeanie Forrester has led a commission to study the feasibility of creating an energy corridor for cable and pipelines along New Hampshire highways and railroad rights of way. It didn’t take the commission many meetings to discover, as it said in its draft report, “A multitude of energy projects are planned for New Hampshire, with little or no policy input from the state.” That must change.

The commission identified four potential corridors using Interstates 93, 95 and 89 and Route 101. Rail corridors should also be investigated for possible designation as underground energy corridors. Using already existing corridors makes the most environmental sense. It may also benefit taxpayers more than other proposals.

The Legislature has a lot to do on the energy front and shouldn’t delay. New Hampshire needs an energy plan, energy corridors, all the renewable energy that makes sense, plus major efforts to fund energy conservation measures and solar power installations. But it shouldn’t declare a moratorium on projects under way while it does its work.

In the rough and tumble energy world, the only word developers and promoters understand is, "No!" What happened when Massachusetts and Connecticut energy regulators held up the NU/NStar merger? The ratepayers in CT and MA now have their rates frozen. What happened when our NH PUC regulators sat on their thumbs and did nothing about the merger? The ratepayers now pay more. It is that simple. Same thing will happen with our legislature. If we want NH to be a player in the New England energy market, then we better get involved. A moratorium of one year would be a good start. Meanwhile, Connecticut is moving forward with a bill to allow big hydro from Canada to qualify as renewable energy. It is going to be voted on next week in the CT Senate. It has the potential to wipe out much of the local renewable power industry in New Hampshire if we allow Northern Pass to use our state as a doormat without a pause while we study the landscape and position ourselves for a place at the table. Folks, it is a just plain stupid position to reject a moratorium on elective transmission lines. Its our jobs and our state that is at stake. We need to let Northeast Utilities, Quebec and Connecticut all know that they can't have our landscape without further discussion--and they can't take our tourism and renewable energy jobs away without a fight.

A previous Monitor editorial concerning investor speculation liability reads: "[L]awmakers must ensure that the lion’s share of the loss is incurred by investors in PSNH’s parent company, Northeast Utilities, not by New Hampshire ratepayers. That includes the huge cost of the mercury scrubber. It was investors, after all, who gambled that it made sense to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep an old coal plant running. They could have said no. So it’s investors who should lose if that gamble doesn’t pay off." What is the difference with their speculative real estate purchases after receiving clear notice that their proposal was unacceptable to the towns, businesses, and residents who were being negatively affected? They knew the risks, they just gambled that they had a sympathetic legislature that would turn a deaf ear to the will and best interests of the people of NH. Again, they gambled and lost.

"But changes to them should affect future proposals, not those already on the table." Really? Can you imagine the FDA applying the same logic to drug approvals? We'll apply more stringent regulations to future medications, but go ahead and keep gobbling up the ones that slipped by us. Please. Wrong is wrong no matter whether a proposal is 'on the table' or not.

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