There was movement on energy policy in both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature today. While reforming the approval process for power plants sailed through the House, rules encouraging burial of power lines got hung up in the Senate.
After making a few changes to a Senate version, on a voice vote the New Hampshire house passed changes to how proposed power plants get a permit. That means if the Senate agrees to the House version beginning in July, new projects will need to increase the amount of public outreach they do before submitting applications to be built.
Lawmakers in the Senate are scheduled to take up a series of much-anticipated energy bills today. There are four energy bills on the docket today, three of which are responses to controversial energy projects.
One would create state-owned rights of way for any new transmission line not needed to keep the lights on as determined by the regional grid operator. If passed developers would have to bury power lines, unless they could prove that isn’t feasible.
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.
One of the biggest questions of this legislative session is how New Hampshire lawmakers will tweak the rules for how the state approves Energy Projects, in a body called the Site Evaluation Committee?
Critics of the Northern Pass and wind farms have converged on this issue as one area where they might get something through the statehouse, and they’ve even found common ground with some project developers, who think the SEC process is unwieldy.
Tuesday night in Plymouth the state’s Office of Energy and Planning held its last public hearing on possible changes to the state’s Site Evaluation Committee - which is responsible for approving utility projects ranging from wind farms to Northern Pass - and the theme was that the SEC needs a significant and wide-ranging overhaul before it can be trusted.
About three dozen people attended and their concerns echoed those voiced at previous meetings around the state.
A central issue was that all fifteen members of the SEC are officials from state agencies.
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.
Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley: This week the public has a chance to weigh in on the future of the state’s Site Evaluation Committee. The SEC reviews major utility projects, including proposed wind farms and the Northern Pass project.
The concerns of opponents of those projects prompted Governor Hassan to sign Senate Bill 99. It calls for a review of how the SEC works with a report due at the end of December.
This week’s listening sessions and workshops include one tonight in Manchester.
A series of public meetings begin the first week in December to determine what changes, if any, should be made to how the state’s Site Evaluation Committee works, including whether the public should have a decision-making role in approving new utility projects.
The SEC reviews major utility projects, which will include Northern Pass.
Currently the SEC has fifteen members, all from state agencies.
Some Northern Pass opponents are hoping Governor Maggie Hassan will sign Senate Bill 99, which they think may complicate approval of the controversial hydro-electric project. The bill may reach Hassan's desk this week but she says she hasn’t decided what to do.
“I haven’t reviewed the bill yet in any kind of detail so I’ll do that and then make up my mind,” she told NHPR Saturday.