New Hampshire’s energy community turned out at a Senate hearing on Wednesday to react to a senate bill proposing changes to the Site Evaluation Committee, which approves power plants. The proposed changes include shrinking the SEC to five members, including two public representatives, hiring dedicated support staff, and requiring projects have a net public benefit.
The broad outlines of the SEC reform won the approval of the committee itself because some of the proposals would streamline the energy approval process, and help manage the load of several smaller renewable projects instead of occasional bigger power plants.
The SEC’s vice-chair, PUC chairwoman Amy Ignatius, told lawmakers, “what used to work as an ad-hoc grouping that would come together for a particular project, now really is becoming overwhelming.
The state’s four largest environmental groups presented a united front in favor of the proposal, but stressed that they considered it a work in progress.
“We want to make sure we’re [siting energy facilities] as fair, compelling and efficient way as possible, so we’re getting the energy benefits but also the environment is protected.” Jim O’Brien, director of external affairs for the Nature Conservancy, told the senators.
Energy developers were critical of including public representatives, calling into question the wisdom of giving decision-making authority to people without “expertise”, and a representative of EDP renewables – a wind farm developer that is eying a project on Newfound Lake – said the public benefit requirement cause a “chill” on renewable development in the state.
“That new standard is more fundamental than modest or moderate,” said Tom Getz, a lawyer representing Northeast Utilities, noting such a standard is vague, and would make it hard to get projects built.
Toward the end of the hearing, after a number of lobbyists from the energy industry had urged caution and expressed their concern that the reform would give too much control to locals, Dorothy McPhaul, a Sugar Hill resident and Northern Pass opponent, stepped forward.
“I am reporting for the people,” she said, expressing her exasperation in hearing the concerns of developers, “the people deserve a say.”
The bill to reform the SEC is still at the very beginning of its legislative journey, and after the many questions raised by interested parties Wednesday, it is likely to get many tweaks and adjustments along the way.