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Senate rejects moratorium on wind farms and Northern Pass

Last modified: 3/29/2013 12:25:34 AM
Efforts to put a one-year moratorium on new energy projects like wind farms and the Northern Pass found very little support yesterday in the state Senate, which killed a final attempt, 20-4.

After nearly two hours of debate and a dramatic plea from Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Dalton Democrat who opposes Northern Pass, the Senate could agree only to study the state’s process for permitting energy projects.

Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, proposed the study after failing to find support for his one-year halt on new wind projects. Bradley, who yesterday said Northern Pass lines should be buried, was criticized earlier this week for trying to remove Northern Pass from the one-year moratorium.

He acknowledged from the Senate floor how divisive the legislation had become.

“I hope some of the white-hot rhetoric we’ve heard outside this room . . . can be replaced with more congeniality,” Bradley said, “and less questioning of peoples’ motives and integrity.”

Bradley’s two-part study passed, 23-1, with Sen. John Reagan, a Deerfield Republican, casting the lone “no” vote.

The original version of the Senate bill never named Northern Pass, a $1.2 billion project that would bring hydropower from Canada to the New England grid. But it targeted the project with its requirements that a “large scale transmission facility” get local approval, minimize adverse effects on the landscape and do more than bring jobs and tax revenue to the state.

Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican who opposes Northern Pass and sponsored the bill, attempted to amend legislation at a committee hearing earlier last week by replacing it with a moratorium on all new energy projects.

The move was popular with Northern Pass foes who packed the meeting and spoke during the committee’s five-hour hearing. The committee, however, adopted a different amendment sponsored by Bradley that limited the moratorium to just new wind projects.

Bradley defended that move on the Senate floor yesterday, saying wind-energy projects pose unique challenges for the state. For example, he said, wind turbines cannot be buried in a way transmission lines can. And wind turbines’ need for open space makes them visible.

“We do not have in our statutes or our (Site Evaluation Committee) regulations any wind criteria for (permitting) parameters,” Bradley said. “There is nothing on height, on noise, on . . . decommission” of the turbines.

Bradley said a moratorium would give the state time to put those regulations in place. His amendment failed on a voice vote.

Forrester and Woodburn followed that vote with their own amendment, seeking a moratorium on wind and all elective energy projects, which would include Northern Pass. But the actual wording of the amendment put a moratorium on all energy projects, and that concerned Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, a Portsmouth Democrat who said she didn’t want to stifle other alternative energy projects.

Woodburn said his North Country constituents felt ignored at the Senate committee hearing on the bill. He also said it would be unfair to put a moratorium on wind but not elective projects like the Northern Pass.

“We expect a fair hearing,” Woodburn said. “(My constituents) don’t need to win but they need to be heard.”

Sen. Bob Odell, a Lempster Republican, urged his colleagues to defeat the moratorium, calling it a bad way to do business. All but four senators agreed.

In addition to Forrester and Woodburn, only Sen. Andy Sanborn, a Bedford Republican, and Senate President Peter Bragdon, a Milford Republican, voted for the moratorium.

The bill that passed would allow the state to spend up to $200,000 from the renewable energy fund to pay an outside expert to evaluate how the state’s Site Evaluation Committee decides whether to approve or deny new energy projects.

The bill, which now heads to the House, would also create a legislative study committee that would examine how well the state considers the potential impacts of wind farms on property values, landscape and job creation.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)


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