You may remember that last year there were a series of bills being considered by the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee which in one way or another sought to restrict the ability of electric utilities to develop electric transmission projects. These arose out of the debate over Northern Pass, and the Chamber has been a consistent critic of the approach taken by these sorts of bills because of the fact that they have impacts that potentially run to all future projects across the state even if they have nothing to do with Northern Pass.
The 2013 bills were retained for further study in the Science & Tech Committee over the course of the summer and fall, and in November the Committee chose HB 569 as the vehicle with which to proceed on this issue. Originally, HB 569 was written so as to mandate the use of transportation rights-of-way (essentially roads and highways) for the placement of all new electric transmission lines. By a 12-7 margin, the Committee voted to recommend to the full House an amendment that directs the Site Evaluation Committee (the body that reviews large energy projects) to give "preference" to transmission projects that use burial technology along public transportation rights-of-way. Although the bill was slated to be voted upon this past week, the House only made it through about a dozen bills in the course of its session on Wednesday, thanks to an unexpected two-hour debate on the legalization of marijuana. It seems almost certain that HB 569 will therefore receive a vote next Wednesday.
This week, Chris Williams figuratively put pen to paper in a Telegraph op ed that noted the Chamber's opposition to HB 569. The three reasons he gave are worth recounting here:
First, HB 569 picks winners and losers. Instead, the Chamber believes that there should be a level playing field that affords fair and equal treatment to all types of projects. It is not a good idea for the Legislature to change the rules on how projects get approved, based on the unique circumstances of individual projects. Let the process that is in place do its job.
Second, HB 569 will hurt New Hampshire's ability to meet future energy needs at the very time when the state and the region are facing serious energy challenges. As we noted in last week's edition of The Advocate, it appears that a high level of reliance on natural gas may be creating volatility in the energy market. The development of new and diverse sources of energy can help enhance our energy diversity and insulate us from this market volatility. But HB 569 restricts that sort of flexibility and hurts our ability to meet this challenge.
Finally, HB 569 threatens to short-circuit ongoing energy policy discussions. Currently, the Legislature has two study commissions in place working on important energy policy issues. One is focused on studying and offering recommendations regarding the Site Evaluation Committee process; the second is working to develop a comprehensive State Energy Plan aimed at insuring reliable and diverse energy sources.
The Chamber is urging all of the members of the Nashua delegation to vote against HB 569 when the bill comes to the floor next week.