NH House Puts Brakes on Legislation Targeting Northern Pass and Wind-Turbine Projects

By: Jay Surdukowski, Esq.

Some of the most prominent land-use legislation of the 2013 session has been put on hold by overwhelming votes of the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee. Seven different bills were introduced in an effort to curtail the Northern Pass project for use of Hydro Quebec power via a new transmission line corridor and to halt the proliferation of additional wind turbines in New Hampshire.

A group of representatives and senators, mostly from Coos and Grafton Counties, have introduced bills in response to current Northern Pass plans for a 140 mile power line originating in the province of Quebec and running through much of New Hampshire, including the heavily forested North Country of the State. The $1.2 billion project has generated many headlines in recent years and is the subject of an on-going political debate. Several of the bills would require Northern Pass to bury or otherwise conceal the visible impact of the transmission lines. This option was championed by both Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates but is opposed by Northern Pass due to the increased costs.

Proponents of an immediate moratorium on wind turbines believe that the wind farms which have cropped up around Plymouth, New Hampshire and other places are unsightly and do not make economic sense. Proponents believe such wind farms are a clean source of energy that should be promoted and not legislated out of existence. One of the bills would have placed an immediate moratorium on all energy projects – including wind projects – until the State formulates a comprehensive energy plan.

Members of the House committee put the brakes on these seven bills because they believe such weighty decisions of energy policy with profound economic consequences to significant pending projects should not be rushed. Members of the committee intend to study the bills more closely this Summer; after the debate over the 2014-2015 budget concludes. House rules will require these bills to come up for committee debate and a vote by the full House sometime before the end of the session in 2014.

A conclusion to be drawn is that the House does not want to rush action which could jeopardize the economic well-being of New Hampshire. The House’s actions are also good news for utilities and energy producers who have projects in the works. However, the fact the bills have been retained for further study in committee as opposed to recommended for passage or defeat all but guarantee that the political debate over Northern Pass and wind turbines will continue well into next year. With all eyes on the budget in 2013, conceivably there will be more political oxygen for these high-profile debates in 2014 when the legislature resumes after the Summer and Fall hiatus.

Overview of Committee Action

Bill Number Summary Vote to Retain Bill
HB 569 Requiring transmission lines to be located on state transportation rights of way “to the extent possible.” 17-2
HB 586 Imposing a one year moratorium on electric transmission facilities. 15-4
HB 568 Requiring power lines which are part of “elective transmission lines” such as Northern Pass to be buried. 17-2
HB 580 Imposing an immediate moratorium on all new wind turbine facilities and electric transmission lines until the State adopts a comprehensive energy plan. 14-5
HB 484-FN-L Requiring local approval by town voters or planning boards for energy projects that are visible from roads and other public property. 17-2
HB 449 Requiring the State’s Site Evaluation Committee to consider local recommendations when considering new energy projects such as Northern Pass. 18-1
HB 166 Allowing the Public Utilities Commission the authority to order that transmission lines be buried if they are “not for the public good.”

Jay Surdukowski’s diverse practice focuses on litigation, including medical negligence, wrongful death, and personal injury cases, as well as advising political committees, corporations, campaigns, and non-partisan organizations. Outside the office, Surdukowski co-chaired the New Hampshire Democratic Party Platform Committee in 2008, 2010, and 2012, and has recently fundraised and campaigned for United States Senator Jeanne Shaheen (2008) and Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern (2012).