Friday, February 22, 2013

New Hampshire's Energy Needs

The current attempt at turning NH into a so-called Right to Work state has officially been defeated. If you are thinking to yourself, “haven’t we been hearing about this for years?” the answer is yes. Arnie Alpert of the NH American Friends Service Committee told me that their organizational records show that someone from NH AFSC has testified against RTW every time it’s come up since 1979. Some folks can’t take no for an answer it seems, even when no has been the answer for over 30 years. It's a remarkable waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

The Merrimack Patch had a story about the annual death of RTW. In their story, our own Rep. Gene Chandler was quoted as saying: (in part)

“In fact, the 2010 U.S. Census reported that almost 16% of New Hampshire’s young adults have left the state over the past 10 years. We have an obligation to our children and grandchildren graduating college to make New Hampshire a competitive place to work again.”

No business has ever refused to locate in NH because 10% of the workforce is unionized. No business has ever left NH because 10% of the workforce is unionized. NH’s young adults are leaving the state because they can’t afford to go to college here. NH ranks 50th in the nation on state spending on the university system – and the last legislature’s budget (a budget Gene relentlessly shilled for in newspapers around the state) cut the 50th in the nation funding level in half. NH will never be a competitive place to work until we do something about our crumbling infrastructure, inadequate telecommunications, and outrageous health insurance costs. New Hampshire’s revenue adverse tax structure ensures none of these things will be dealt with. Pretending that it has something to do with unions is pure, unadulterated baloney – and it’s baloney that police, firefighters, and teachers should be paying attention to at election time. The message is clear:  he has no respect for you or the work you do. These days Rep. Chandler seems intent on morphing into a slightly more likable version of O’Brien in a desperate attempt to get the speakership back. 

This week brought the public hearing on HB 580, a bill calling for a moratorium on wind turbine plants and electric transmission line projects. This bill had 7 representatives and 1 senator sponsoring. There were 2 reps from Grafton, one from Coos, and two from Carroll County. One of the Carroll County sponsors is Rep. Chandler. 

At the risk of exploding heads, (including his) in this instance, I agree with Rep. Chandler. NH’s energy policy was last updated in 2002. Last week I attended a hearing on HB 465, a bill that is aimed at repealing part of NH’s “Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy” law, a law that was passed in 1955, when we thought we’d have atomic powered toasters. It’s a bill that reeks of cheerleading for what is now the nuclear industry, a law that the nuclear industry cited as a reason to extend the license at Seabrook Station, despite the fact that the concrete is falling apart, and the plant is leaking tritium. It’s clear that the time has come to do a big, serious, rewrite of NH’s energy policy. 

This proposed moratorium is partly a result of the ongoing fight about the Northern Pass Project. I was not surprised to hear a man representing the Nashua and Manchester Chambers of Commerce speaking against the bill. Northern Pass won’t be going through either city. Those of us who live in the North Country are all too familiar with the reality that the southern part of the state regards us as a dumping ground for projects that they don’t want in their back yards. It’s an interesting philosophy, given that tourism is NH’s second largest industry. Whenever anyone is asked what their favorite spot in NH is, it’s always the seacoast, the lakes region, or the mountains. I never seem to hear tourists say, “Boy, I can’t wait to see Nashua!” 

There was a great deal of good testimony in support of the bill. Rep. Rebecca Brown from Sugar Hill said that NH should take time to update the energy policy and not be rushed, a sentiment that was echoed by others who spoke. NH does have a tendency to act in haste and repent at leisure. We fly by the seat of our pants and pay the pound of cure over the ounce of prevention at every opportunity. We don’t plan the future; we let outside forces do it to us. At this hearing I learned that there are five hydro dams on the Connecticut River. NH doesn’t own any of them. TransCanada owns three of the five. There’s something wrong with that picture. 

Dave Dobbins of Gilford testified that he was concerned about the impact of large energy projects on our small state. He said there is a danger to our state and our quality of life if we allow energy corporations to make our decisions for us. The lack of a comprehensive energy plan leaves us at constant risk. 

Mr. Dobbins is right. In NH we’re always reacting. We’re never initiating. That’s why I find myself in the novel position of being on the same side of a piece of legislation as Representative Chandler. The moratorium should not be forever, but it should last long enough to come up with a comprehensive energy plan that will take our state into the future – a future we choose, not one that is foisted on us by out of state corporations who plunder and run.  

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Alan Lakein

© sbruce 2013

This was published as an op-ed in the February 22, 2013 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

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