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Hassan delays vote to confirm Odell, Merrill to energy siting committee

Last modified: 10/2/2014 1:23:12 AM
Gov. Maggie Hassan delayed a vote yesterday to confirm two new public members to the committee charged with permitting the Northern Pass project and any future wind farms in the state.

Two weeks ago, Hassan nominated outgoing state Sen. Bob Odell, a New London Republican, and outgoing state Rep. Amanda Merrill, a Durham Democrat, to be two of the first public members on the newly reorganized Site Evaluation Committee. The committee, primarily made up of state agency officials, is tasked with siting and permitting large-scale energy projects in New Hampshire.

Both nominations need approval from the Executive Council.

At the council’s meeting in Manchester yesterday, Hassan praised Odell’s and Merrill’s qualifications, but said she wouldn’t seek the council’s approval of the pair just yet.

Odell and Merrill “are both people with extraordinary experience and expertise,” Hassan said. “I believe they are as highly qualified as any two people in the state to do this work and that they have the capacity to be impartial and objective.”

She delayed the vote to give the Executive Council more time to consider the nominees, said Hassan’s spokesman, William Hinkle, in a statement.

During the most recent legislative session, lawmakers reworked the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, slimming it to nine members from 15, and adding new public representation. One of those new public members must be an attorney.

Hassan said yesterday it’s challenging to find a lawyer to fill that job who hasn’t taken a position or advocated for any particular type of energy or power project and who is willing to give up billable hours to work on the committee.

“We have some ideas and we are vetting some people,” Hassan said.

Earlier this month, she nominated Odell to serve a four-year public member term and Merrill to serve a two-year term as an alternate on the committee.

The announcement drew criticism from members of New Hampshire Wind Watch and state Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican who sponsored the SEC reorganization bill. Wind Watch, a group that aims to educate people about the effects of industrial wind projects, said the SEC’s new public members are meant to be residents affected by energy projects, not former legislators.

The nominees have picked up support from a wide-ranging group of people and organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and state Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who co-sponsored the SEC legislation.

Odell and Merrill are well-suited to represent the public, said Michael Licata of the state’s Business and Industry Association. “As a state senator and representative, that is what they have done for many, many years: listen to their constituents, the general public and represent those views in Concord.”

During the meeting, Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, a Republican who represents District 1, said he has heard reservations about the nominees.

“Right now the perception is that we are appointing people from within,” said Kenney, whose district includes Coos and Grafton counties, where a handful of wind farms already exist. “I think the independent, reasonable approach should be to hire from outside state government.”

Hassan said the vote can’t be delayed for very long. “We need to have an up-and-running SEC,” she said.

The council yesterday also approved the nomination of Amy Ignatius to serve on the superior court. Ignatius is currently chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission, a job that includes a position on the Site Evaluation Committee.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)


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