Energy bills draw opponents at House committee hearing
Elizabeth Dragon, Franklin's city manager, addressed the House Science Technolgy and Energy Committee in Representatives Hall on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in opposition to 5 bills which, among other things, would require transmission lines for future non-essential projects, like the Northern Pass, to be buried. Also in attendance were members of an electrical workers' union wearing green t-shirts that read, "Don't bury my job." At past hearings, opponents of the Northern Pass have worn the color orange. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor Staff)
Business leaders, union workers and Franklin residents turned out in large numbers yesterday to testify against five bills that would restrict or halt projects like Northern Pass.
While none of the bills identified Northern Pass by name, each was inspired by the proposed hydro-power project and sponsored largely by people who oppose it, at least in its current form.
The bills included a moratorium on new energy projects, additional regulation for those projects and a requirement that transmission lines for nonessential projects like Northern Pass be buried.
In response to that bill, about 20 members of an electrical workers’ union came to the hearing wearing green T-shirts that said, “Don’t bury my job.” One of them was Jason Lauze of Farmington, a member of IBEW Local 104.
Lauze told the House Science Technology and Energy Committee that the extra expense of burying transmission lines would cost people like him jobs because developers would go elsewhere. He also guessed that burying lines would be worse for the environment than stringing lines above ground.
“You’d still be trenching miles and miles . . . and still have to clear trees and disturb wetlands,” Lauze said.
Yesterday’s bills drew a different crowd than what’s usually seen – and heard – at Northern Pass-related hearings. In place of well-organized opponents were well-organized supporters, from the electrical workers’ union, the business community and from Franklin, which stands to get a 44 percent increase in tax revenue if Northern Pass goes through.
“It’s a game changer,” said former Franklin representative and mayor Dave Palfrey. He opposed all five bills yesterday. “This project gives us an amazing opportunity to do something we couldn’t do before.”
As proposed, Northern Pass would bring hydro-power from Canada into the New England energy grid via a new convertor station in Franklin. Northern Pass partners, Hydro-Quebec, Northeast Utilities and Public Service of New Hampshire, have said they will invest nearly $350 million.
The city is taking any threat to the project seriously, and recently hired Stuart Trachy of Frankin as its lobbyist.
Joining Palfrey in opposing any effort to restrict Northern Pass yesterday were Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield, two officials from the Franklin Savings Bank, a former school board member, a city councilor, a resident and City Manager Elizabeth Dragon.
“I believe all these bills are crafted to stall or kill the hydro-power project,” Dragon said.
The Business and Industry Association and the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce testified against all the bills, saying legislating against a single project scares businesses from wanting to invest in the state. Chris Williams of the chamber said bills like these could unintentionally stymie other energy projects, and as a result cost the state new jobs and new tax revenue.
Other opponents included TransCanada, which has some hydro-power projects on the Connecticut River.
Doug Patch of the Orr & Reno law firm spoke on the company’s behalf yesterday, telling the committee that the state already has a rigorous review process for energy projects. At one point, a committee member wrongly assumed Patch and TransCanada were part of the Northern Pass project, and she criticized what she views as Northern Pass’s environmentally-unfriendly practices around controlling water flow.
“We are not Hydro-Quebec,” Patch told the committee. “TransCanada is a different company.”
Although they were fewer in number, the bills also drew supporters.
Susan Arnold testified for all five bills on behalf of her organization, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and five other environmental groups, including the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the Conservation Law Foundation.
“Needless to say, we are going to be offering a slightly different perspective,” Arnold said.
She said the groups favor a more regulated state review of energy projects, one that would require the state’s Site Evaluation Committee to consider underground transmission lines, visual impacts and whether a project meets the state’s energy needs.
Rep. Nickolas Levasseur told Arnold the Site Evaluation Committee already considers those things and just voted against a wind project, in part, because of its visual impacts.
Rick Samson, a Coos County commissioner and resident of West Stewartstown, tried to widen the debate beyond Northern Pass. He said the state needs to halt new energy projects until it can develop a comprehensive energy policy.
“The defeat of these bills would put us on a fast track to allow any company . . . to come into this state and develop any project whether it be wind, hydro or whatever,” he said. “Northern Pass has brought to the forefront our lack of an energy policy.”
The committee did not vote yesterday on any of the bills.
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323,
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)