Joint Testimony from Conservation Partners on SB 245

 The Honorable David Borden, Chairman
House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee
Legislative Office Building, Room 304
Concord, NH 03301

Re:  Senate Bill 245

Dear Chairman Borden and Members of the Committee:

Our organizations support Senate Bill 245. The bill provides meaningful reform of the state body that reviews proposals for new and modified energy facilities, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), and will help ensure that the SEC has the composition, authority, and resources to do its work and promote the public’s interest in an efficient but rigorous permitting process. As the region’s energy market undergoes a period of rapid transition and the number and complexity of energy proposals are increasing, a strong SEC is essential for New Hampshire to manage that transition, provide greater clarity to developers, address legitimate community concerns, and protect the state’s treasured environment and natural resources. 
The bill has a strong foundation in prior legislative efforts and the Senate Bill 99 stakeholder process that took place during the Fall of 2013. That process confirmed that many stakeholders shared the view that the status quo was unacceptable and that significant changes to the SEC were necessary. The final Senate Bill 99 report identified reforms with broad support, including making the SEC process more efficient and less cumbersome, increasing opportunities for public and community engagement before and during the process, and strengthening the SEC’s authority to ensure that proposed projects benefit the public. Senate Bill 245, as passed by the Senate, includes statutory changes that will help achieve these objectives.
Our organizations played a significant role in working with Senators and other stakeholders to craft the bill before you. As with all major legislation reflecting consensus among diverse parties, the specific legislative language reflects a great deal of compromise on the part of all participants in the discussion, including our organizations. That said, the bill as passed by the Senate provides a reasonable and moderate set of reforms to the SEC’s process and standards:
  • The bill reduces the size of SEC from 15 to 9 members, including 7 state agency officials and two public members-at-large appointed by the Governor. This change in membership and the bill’s authorizations for state agency members to delegate their duties to senior agency staff will allow for more orderly and timely consideration of energy proposals, while retaining state agency expertise on the SEC and adding the fresh, independent perspectives of two citizen members.

  • The bill strengthens public participation by requiring project information sessions in host communities—both before and after a formal application for a project is submitted. This change will improve the public’s ability to provide meaningful comments on an application and should help developers understand and address any community concerns about a project early in the process. 

  • The bill provides initial funding for a professional staff and calls for a permanent funding plan to be developed and implemented during the next biennium, including development of a reasonable application fee. We strongly believe that the state gets what it pays for; for the SEC to function effectively and professionally, it needs the support of a dedicated staff and sufficient financial resources to do its work.

  • Under the bill, all projects must be found to “serve the public interest.” This is a crucial reform to ensure that the SEC looks rigorously at any public benefits of a project in the context of any adverse impacts on the state’s resources.
Ultimately, the bill is designed to improve the SEC process for project applicants and for New Hampshire citizens. It makes fulfilling the public interest the paramount priority of the energy facility siting process. It makes the project review process more user friendly for the public. It reduces the burden on state agency heads. It provides financial resources for the SEC to conduct its work. And it retains the process’s essential features: efficient one-stop shopping and a fair and rigorous adjudicative process.  
We understand that this Committee will likely consider certain amendments to the bill, especially with respect to the provisions regarding funding. As Senator Bradley indicated during his presentation on April 1, funding is a subject on which total consensus and workable details were elusive within the timeframe of Senate discussions. Our organizations favor adding a provision to the bill that establishes the SEC’s authority to recover state agency costs—including the value of the considerable time that agency members of the SEC spend reviewing applications and participating in hearings—from developers, at least during the interim period before a permanent funding plan and application fee is implemented. Our organizations also favor adding a requirement that the funding plan consider the potential for a state appropriation that could cover certain SEC costs, such as overhead and policy development, that may not be appropriate costs to recover through an application fee. There are also several technical improvements and corrections that could be made during the upcoming subcommittee review of the bill, and we would be happy to work with Committee members on such changes.
As energy markets change and mature, and as the market-based development of energy generation and transmission facilities provide the opportunity to meet our energy needs with innovative and cleaner resources, the process by which New Hampshire makes the critical decisions about the siting of such facilities must also change with the times. Public trust and confidence in the SEC and its decisions will be well served by adopting Senate Bill 245. Our organizations urge the Committee to recommend passage by the House. 
Will Abbott, Society for the Protection of NH Forests, 224-9945, Ext 327
Susan Arnold, Appalachian Mountain Club, 664-2050
Christophe Courchesne, Conservation Law Foundation, 225-3060, Ext 3017
Jim O’Brien, The Nature Conservancy, 224-5853, Ext 28 

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