NH News
10:45 pm
Tue December 3, 2013

SEC Reform Workshop Draws Varied Crowd

Credit Thomas Gehrke / Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday night state officials heard from New Hampshire residents concerned about how the state approves power plants and other transmission lines. The group was weighing in on a variety of proposed changes to the SEC – a quasi-judicial, 15-member body that decides whether energy projects should be built.

Many of the 73 people in the cafeteria in Manchester Memorial High School came out to oppose the Northern Pass transmission line, or the wind farms proposed around Newfound Lake, but the crowd also included lawmakers, renewable advocates, consultants, and even Northern Pass employees.  

However, attendees were reminded that the SEC approves all energy projects. “Even though you may be thinking about a particular kind of energy facility in your mind because that’s what you care about, remember that this would be potentially applicable to all things, biomass, solar, gas-turbine plan, whatever,” said Patrick Field, a consultant who led the discussion.

The varied crowd meant Jonathan Raab, another consultant and facilitator, got sometimes conflicting results when he polled the gathering.

“And visual impact shows up on this list in the lead,” declared Raab as a projector displayed the results of a real-time survey of what the group was least concerned about, only moments after a survey of the same group showed that a (presumably different) plurality thought that visual impacts were the most important impact of energy development. “We’ll have to think about what that means collectively, right,” mused Raab as the laughter filled the room.

This made for lively discussions on how to reform the SEC, but not many insights into the collective will of those in attendance, though there were some points of relative agreement. 

For instance 74 percent of the crowd thought any noise standard applied to power plants should be relative, meaning that power plants in urban areas could be noisier than those in quiet rural spaces; 60 percent thought a cost analysis of burying major transmission lines should be required; and 58 percent thought a project’s approval should be tied to how well it fits into a broader state energy plan.

There are four more workshops and three listening sessions throughout the month. At the end of the process lawmakers will get a report summarizing what residents say, which could influence any reforms they might propose.