Critics say renewable energy bill on the too-fast track

A bill that originally would have allowed Public Service of New Hampshire to build a wood-burning plant in the North Country has morphed into fast-track legislation for all small renewable energy projects.

Now a House committee is grappling on how fast that process should move and whether environmental safeguards will remain in place.

Senate Bill 140 would give the Site Evaluation Committee – the multi-agency task force that sites energy plants — 120 days to make a decision on renewable energy plants, such as those that are powered by geothermal sources, wind, solar, and biomass.

But the House Science Energy and Technology committee is considering an amendment that would slow down the process.
According to Catherine Corkery, a spokesperson for the Sierra Club, “120 days doesn’t pass even pass the smell test.”

The amendment would slow down the process to 240 days, two or three months shorter than the current process. It also would require two public hearings and make sure that other processes, such as obtaining an air permit from the Department of Environmental Services, aren’t bypassed. The House panel is scheduled to vote on that amendment – which is still being finalized – May 29.

While the proposed amendment slowing down the approval process is an improvement, Corkery said, the Sierra Club is still not satisfied. She said it would like the bill to notify abutting property owners directly, and to make sure that transmission line easements are included in the process.

But Douglas Patch, a lobbyist for the renewable energy industry, thinks the amendment represents a “middle ground.”

“It should shorten the process somewhat,” Patch said. “The state should be promoting renewable energy industry, because it’s more sustainable and relies less on foreign oil.”

Current law for non-renewable energy plants doesn’t require abutters to be notified, said Patch, so this “would result in more of a burden on renewable projects rather than less.”

Corkery said she would like that notification to abutters be extended to all plants, renewable or not, so “people would know what’s going on before someone is at your door making an offers on your land.” – BOB SANDERS

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