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Capital Beat

Capital Beat: Renewed push at State House for a moratorium on wind farms

In both the House and the Senate, legislators are making a new push for a statewide moratorium on wind farms – including one proposal that would also block projects like the Northern Pass.

“All of the people in the Legislature have realized their constituents, especially north of Concord, are concerned,” said Jennifer Tuthill, a founding member of New Hampshire Wind Watch, a group that’s raised objections to planned wind-turbine projects near Newfound Lake. “They are actually hearing their voices.”

A number of bills were filed this year in the House dealing with wind farms and electrical transmission lines, a category that includes projects like the Northern Pass, a controversial $1.2 billion plan to import hydropower from Quebec on power lines through New Hampshire.

Two were moratorium bills. One would have blocked any new transmission lines for a year, while the other would have blocked both wind farms and transmission lines until the state issued a new comprehensive energy plan.

Neither bill will come to a vote anytime soon. The House Science, Technology and Energy Committee decided this month to retain those and five

related bills, with the goal of studying the issues raised by the legislation this summer.

But that wasn’t the end of the debate.

Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican, has announced plans to attach an amendment to the state budget that would establish a one-year moratorium on new transmission lines and wind turbines.

Kurk said he’s concerned that the projects proposed in recent months and years are on a far larger scale than the projects traditionally reviewed by the state Site Evaluation Committee.

“Both in terms of scale and size, these are very different from the traditional kind of transmission and generating facilities,” Kurk said. “And until the Legislature has an opportunity to establish what standards should be used for these kinds of facilities, we should have a breathing space for thoughtful policy considerations to be developed.”

Kurk said his proposal, an amendment to House Bill 2, will be discussed by the House Finance Committee when it meets Tuesday.

In the Senate, a bill revising the Site Evaluation Committee’s review process was overhauled last week by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to instead establish a one-year moratorium on new wind projects.

That amendment, which is scheduled to come to the Senate floor Thursday, would also require a review of the Site Evaluation Committee and a study of wind-farm siting. It was endorsed by the committee on a 4-1 vote.

Such a moratorium would be welcomed by Tuthill, who said her group isn’t anti-turbine but has concerns about the sites proposed for several wind farms in the Newfound Lake region.

“Some breathing room is what everybody is asking for, and a chance to have an independent study of the SEC and its processes and to perhaps recommend ways it could become more efficient, more sensitive to the voices of the people most impacted,” Tuthill said. “You can back off take a year, and see what’s happening.”

A wind moratorium, though, is opposed by environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Conservation Law Foundation, who say it could derail viable clean-energy projects.

Catherine Corkery, chapter director and field organizer for the New Hampshire Sierra Club, said the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee’s plan for careful study is a better approach than a moratorium.

And, she said, Senate Bill 99 as amended last week would block new wind projects, but doesn’t address the concerns of Northern Pass critics.

“A lot of people have been motivated and have come to the Legislature looking for some relief around Northern Pass, and those people were left just twitching in the wind after that committee hearing,” Corkery said. “And I think that does a real disservice to those folks.”

While lawmakers are wrestling with the moratorium proposals, Gov. Maggie Hassan isn’t quite ready to jump into the debate.

“While we have not yet had the opportunity to closely review the impacts of the proposed Senate measure, the governor supports working in cooperation with local communities and businesses to explore a wide range of local and renewable energy sources in order to create jobs, reduce energy costs and ensure a diverse energy supply in the future,” said spokesman Marc Goldberg in a statement.

New AG coming

With Attorney General Mike Delaney’s announcement that he’ll leave office after his term ends March 31, Hassan has a big decision to make. Her pick for the job will instantly become one of the state’s highest-profile officials.

Her office isn’t giving any hints about who will get the nod, or when it’ll be announced.

Two obvious candidates, though, are Lucy Hodder, Hassan’s legal counsel, and Ann Rice, the deputy attorney general.

Both jobs have been traditional stepping stones. Delaney was then-Gov. John Lynch’s legal counsel when he was picked in 2009. His predecessor, now-U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, was governor Craig Benson’s counsel, then deputy attorney general before replacing Peter Heed in the top job in 2004.

Jennifer Horn, chairwoman of the state Republican Party, Friday launched a preemptive assault on Hodder, who in 2012 was a registered lobbyist for, among others, William Wortman, one of the owners of Millennium Gaming.

Millennium hopes to build a casino at Rockingham Park in Salem. Hassan is a supporter of expanded gambling and is counting on $80 million from the license fee for a single casino to balance the next state budget, though she hasn’t indicated support for any one proposal or site.

“Under no circumstances should Gov. Hassan even consider appointing a well-heeled casino lobbyist to be our next attorney general,” Horn thundered in a news release.

Hassan’s office didn’t directly respond. “The governor is working to identify a highly qualified candidate to serve the people of New Hampshire as attorney general as quickly as possible,” Goldberg said.

Delaney, GOP hero?

Speaking of Delaney, he sure seems more popular with Republicans today than he was a year ago.

“I want to thank Attorney General Delaney for his years of public service and for upholding New Hampshire’s tradition of an independent justice department that is free of partisan influence,” Horn declared in a news release last week.

(The main example of “courage and integrity” cited by Horn was his office’s opposition to casino gambling.)

It wasn’t so long ago that Delaney was tangling with House Republicans leaders, trading shots over issues like suing the federal government over Obamacare and the conduct of the late Redress of Grievances Committee.

Last spring, then-House Speaker Bill O’Brien said in a news release that Delaney was committed “to driving his Democrat political agenda, at the expense of both our citizens and the credibility and integrity of the Department of Justice. Once again, politics trumps justice for Michael Delaney.”

And then-House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt said, in the same April 2012 release, that he looked forward to the end of Delaney’s term.

“March 31, 2013 can’t arrive fast enough. . . . Fortunately, New Hampshire is less than a year away from being able to restore the reputation of a department that demands professional, focused leadership that sets aside ideology,” Bettencourt said.

SEA backs casino

You might have missed it, but the State Employees’ Association quietly announced Friday that it’s backing the state Senate’s casino bill.

The news was tucked into the “State House Bulletin” email sent to members and media outlets, but it took some close reading to find it. In a blurb recounting the House’s vote last week to kill a competing casino bill, the union said the Senate’s casino bill will help reverse the “destruction” the then-GOP-led Legislature created with the current state budget.

“We need a better alternative than relying so heavily on spending cuts, which we have seen happen so many times,” the union wrote. “With further cuts in department budgets, we will fail to meet people’s current needs, including our own, and fail to invest in the economy we want and need for the future.

The piece ended with a request to members: “Please contact your state representatives today and urge them to pass SB 152 to add $80 million to the state budget.”

Union spokeswoman Beth D’Ovidio said the SEA’s council agreed Thursday night to support the bill. But union leaders know it’s a divisive issue, she said.

“We’ve also made it clear that some people have very strong feelings” against expanded gambling, she said. “Our members are all kinds of people who have different feelings and beliefs.”

D’Ovidio said the union will likely state its position more publicly sometime this week.

Pay your way

The Senate passed a bill last week revoking a perk enjoyed by the governor, legislators and members of their staffs: free admission to state parks.

But the same bill also takes away the free access to those parks enjoyed by anyone 65 and older. Instead, seniors will have the option of buying a “Granite Parks Pass,” granting access at a third the cost of a regular season pass, or paying the regular daily rate.

“We ask our state parks to be self-funded business entities, and the admissions and pricing reforms in this legislation will allow them to do so more effectively,” said Sen. Nancy Stiles, a Hampton Republican and the bill’s sponsor, in a statement.

The vote Thursday was 24-0 for the provision eliminating discounts for elected officials and staffers, and 17-7 for the rest of the bill. All seven “no” votes came from Democrats.

Stiles said the bill would mean nearly $300,000 more in annual revenue for the parks system. The legislation now heads to the House.

House budget rollout

It’s been a little more than five weeks since Hassan unveiled her proposed two-year state budget. Now, it’s the House Finance Committee’s turn.

The budget-writing committee’s three divisions will present their proposed changes tomorrow, and the full panel is scheduled to debate and vote Tuesday on the two budget bills, HB 1 and HB 2, before sending them to the House floor next week.

Also getting work this week is the two-year capital budget, HB 25, which is in the hands of the House Public Works and Highways Committee.

Slip of the hand

Last week, when the House killed a bill that would have banned the carrying of handguns in public buildings, it was one of the more lopsided votes of the year: 322-9.

The nine “no” votes came from some of the House’s most liberal members – and Londonderry Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Republican who no one would describe as a liberal.

Did he have a sudden conversion on the issue of gun rights? Well, not exactly.

“For the 1st time in over 6 years, I pressed the wrong button not paying attention on a bill,” Baldasaro tweeted.

March Madness

Brackets aren’t just for college basketball.

The National Republican Congressional Committee last week taunted New Hampshire’s two Democratic congresswomen – 1st District Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and 2nd District Rep. Annie Kuster – with spots in the group’s “Liberal Madness” bracket.

Shea Porter was the No. 4 seed in her region but lost in the second round to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Annie Kuster was the No. 5 seed in her region but lost in the first round to the No. 4 pick, Massachusetts Rep. John Tierney.

News of record

∎ Harrell Kirstein is back at the New Hampshire Democratic Party. He was a party spokesman before going to work for President Obama’s re-election campaign, and last week was named the party’s communications director.

∎ The state Republican Party is staffing up, too, with Matthew Slater, a GOP operative from New York, coming in as executive director. David Chesley will be a senior adviser, Jacob Avery will be operations director and Meg Stone is now a part-time special projects manager.

∎ The Business and Industry Association will issue a revised version of the ubiquitous Blue Book in May, due to “several biographical and typographical errors” in the current edition.

∎ Ashley Pratte, executive director of Cornerstone Action, got a photo and a quote in The New York Times last week, in an article profiling young conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage.

∎ With Bill O’Neil’s win over Win Hutchinson in last Tuesday’s special election in Manchester’s Ward 2, Democrats now hold 219 seats in the House to 179 for the GOP.

(Annmarie Timmins contributed reporting to this column. Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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