Newfound Voters Again Weighing Wind Restrictions

Mar 9, 2015

Credit Chris Jensen / NHPR

EDP renewables, a company based in Portugal that operates 3,600 Megawatts of wind power in the US, has proposed a 29-turbine wind farm for five towns in the Newfound region. So for many in that area town meeting season is an opportunity to express their opposition to wind farms.

But how? Strategies vary. While some in those towns are sticking to more traditional forms of opposition, others are using town meeting to declare themselves ready to employ civil disobedience to stop the project.

Orange is voting on resolutions opposing development, and Groton has put forward a comprehensive wind-zoning ordinance.

But two towns – Alexandria and Dorchester – are considering something called a Rights-Based Ordinance, or a Community Bill of Rights, to keep out unwanted development.

“It asserts that certain kinds of corporations can’t do business in Alexandria unless permitted by the town,” says George Tuthill, a selectman from Alexandria. That town already has a rights-based ordinance, but is looking to supplement its language.

Four towns in the Newfound region have already passed them in response to wind-farm proposals, along with six more along the path of the Northern Pass. These ordinances are promoted by a group called the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which opposes regulatory systems that give the state control over the siting of big energy projects.

“That regulatory system, it’s not really broken, it’s fixed against you and me,” says Michelle Sanborn, the organizer of the Citizens of Alexandria Rights Effort Group (CARE group), which has taken up advocacy for the ordinance.

There’s just one problem.

New Hampshire is a so-called Dillon’s Rule state, which means under the constitution, the towns are created by the state, and so their authority is pre-empted. So, these ordinances might not be, strictly speaking, legal.

“Towns don’t have that right, and with respect to energy, those kinds of thing are explicitly exempted from town control by RSA,” says selectman Tuthill.

But proponents of these ordinances say towns should be undeterred by that concern.

“That is not how women gained the right to vote, and that is not how blacks gained their right for freedom,” says Sanborn.

But the two strategies aren’t mutually exclusive. Tuthill, who also opposes wind-farm development, is taking a more traditional route, at the same time. He’s proposed a zoning tweak that would impose a fifty-foot height restriction on any structure.

Alexandria’s voters will get to give their say on both measures tomorrow.