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OEP gathered input on Site Energy Committee (SEC) process

December 11, 2013
NORTHUMBERLAND — Highly structured and detailed public input was gathered on the state's energy siting process as required under Senate Bill 99 (SB99) on Wednesday evening, Dec. 4, when some 45 North Country residents participated in a Citizen Workshop in the Groveton High School gym under the aegis of the state Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) and its consultants.

Passed during the 2013 legislative session under the prime sponsorship of Sen. Jeanne Forester of Meredith, SB99 requires OEP to conduct a study of the state's Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) that includes seeking public and stakeholder input on potential ways to improve the state's permitting process for large proposed energy facilities.

Two of the nine co-sponsors of SB99 were on hand: Rep. Larry Rappaport, a Republican of Colebrook, as a participant, and Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Democrat of Dalton, who stayed as an observer for much of the evening.

Mayor Paul Grenier of Berlin, who also serves as a Cos County commissioner and supports Northern Pass, and Berlin City Planner Pam Laflamme, who both became familiar with the SEC process when the Burgess Biopower plant was sited, were on hand.

Cos County commissioner Rick Samson of Stewartstown, an ardent Northern Pass opponent, was also a participant.

Citizen Workshops are only one of facet of the examination of the state's current siting process that is now underway. It also includes a review of other states' approaches to siting as well as ideas from a cross-section of stakeholders.

The frequent use of electronic keypads to poll citizens and provide "real-time" feedback during the evening workshop allowed nuanced responses to be gathered with the results tallied as percentages of those responding.

Input from all five workshops will be included in the final report to the Legislature at year's end.

When participant Peter Powell, a realtor of Lancaster, was asked whether he thought his time had been well spent, he replied, "Yes, I'm glad that this review process is underway, and I'm thankful that the Legislature has asked for this detailed review of the status quo. I knew superficially that the Site Evaluation Committee was lacking and that New Hampshire is ill prepared to make complex energy facility decisions in a way that protects our state's assets, that, for example, we have no dedicated agency with the expertise needed. But now I really see that we should have a moratorium on all new energy facility siting applications — including Northern Pass — until we can devise an approach to siting decisions that is commensurate with these very complex decisions."

Dick Mallion of Whitefield, who chaired that town's Conservation Commission for some years, was also pleased to have taken the time to participate. "I was at the session last night in Groveton; it was not well attended (40+ until it started dwindling towards the end), but it was a good forum to express opinions and ideas about the Site Evaluation Committee reviews. It was very well put together. A lot got covered with the use of electronic polling technology, and there is the off chance that it will influence the future direction of the SEC process."

A number of participants chose to make individual statements at the end of the evening.

Northern Pass opponent Jim Dannis of Dalton complained that the options that had been presented for consideration throughout the evening had "really been inside the boundary" and that he had missed the chance to think outside the box. Dannis said that he believes that a fundamental question that must always be considered when evaluating energy facilities is whether or not they are needed.

Both psychologist Joe Keenan of Northumberland and food network activist Julie Moran of Colebrook said that they believed that the many benefits associated with energy conservation had not been teased out during the exercise.

Rep. Rappaport said that his eyes had been opened during the session and that he had gained an appreciation for the absolute importance as to whether or not a project is directed at system reliability.

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