We come not to praise these bills, but to bury them (in a manner of speaking). The House Science, Technology & Energy Committee held hearings yesterday on HB 431 and HB 626, two bills that yet again look to unnecessarily restrict the way that energy companies can construct and place new energy lines. HB 431 is identical to last year's HB 569, and establishes a "preference" for the burial of electric transmission lines. HB 626 would create "energy infrastructure corridors" and establish new criteria that the Site Evaluation Committee must follow in making decisions on energy projects. This bill also makes burial of lines one of the criteria to be used by the SEC.
In his letter to the House Science, Technology & Energy Committee, Chamber President/CEO Chris Williams registered the Chamber's opposition to HB 431 on several grounds. First, the bill is clearly directed at the Northern Pass Project (indeed, at the hearing the prime sponsor of the bill and virtually everyone who testified in support of the bill spoke about the bill in that context), and as we have been saying since the anti-Northern Pass bills began to be filed several years ago, the Chamber does not believe that it is a good idea to pass legislation directed at one specific project that might have uncontemplated negative consequences on other, unrelated projects in the future.
The second problem is that, although the bill is couched in terms of establishing just a "preference" for burial, the Site Evaluation Commission obviously must adhere to that preference. From a practical standpoint, a legislative statement of "preference" will amount to the same thing as a mandate because that preference will be adopted in virtually every case. The enactment of this bill probably would result in just what the sponsors want the bill to do: make it so that the lines are buried in almost every circumstance. We think the SEC instead should be able to make its decisions based on what is best in each particular situation.
Finally, burial of lines very likely means more difficulty and more expense for the companies that are doing these projects. It seems clear that these sorts of hurdles unquestionably would lead to higher energy costs for New Hampshire - not exactly what we need at this point in New Hampshire's economic history.
Just last year, the legislature passed a law revamping the SEC and how the SEC reviews projects.
Can't we wait to see how that law works before changing things yet again? At the very time that we need more energy in this state, these sorts of bills, year in and year out, can hardly be making New Hampshire an attractive place for companies that might be looking to build new energy projects. We need to keep in mind what was said at the Chamber's legislative symposium this year: it is time to turn the focus on the need to get more energy into New Hampshire.