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Gilford BudCom strikes 2014 funds for regional planning commission

GILFORD — The Budget Committee voted last week to eliminate $8,500 for funding for the Lakes Region Planning Commission from the proposed 2014 town spending plan.

LRPC dues are part of a line item in the Planning Department's budget.

According to Budget Committee Vice Chair Kevin Leandro, the vote came after very little discussion on a motion by member Sue Greene. He didn't recall the actual vote but said at least seven members of the 12-member committee supported withdrawing, including Chair Phyllis Corrigan.

Greene said yesterday that in her mind the LRPC is an additional layer of government and politics not needed by the town of Gilford or its residents. She also said she couldn't justify the $8,500 an year.

About two-thirds of the funding for regional planning commissions comes from state and federal sources and Green said the LRPC expends $369,000 to its employees in salaries alone.

"Planning decisions need to be made by local planning boards," she said. "It's another area where local decisions are impeded."

Gilford is not the only town considering a withdrawal.. In Alton, almost 40 people signed a petition requesting the town remove itself from the LRPC membership. The article will appear on the annual Town Meeting ballot in March.

In 2006, Sanbornton withdrew from the LRPC but rejoined in 2007 when members of the then Board of Selectmen convinced a narrow majority of the voters at town meeting to rejoin because of the potential loss of the regional hazardous waste day sponsored by the LRPC.

Some area planners said the services provided by the LRPC — especially for traffic planning studies and water quality issues — are critical to local communities. One said their town's department would be "recreating the wheel" every time they embarked on a new projects and needed a study or some demographic information.

According to its 2013 annual report, one of the fundamental services of the LRPC is to collect and disseminate data to its Lakes Region members. They convene at least six meetings a year and are available for answering questions about state and federal laws.

Gilford Town Administrator Scott Dunn said Friday that selectmen have not had an opportunity to discuss the Budget Committee's decision but expects it to be part of their conversation at the January 22 meeting.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 02:07

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Wild Meadows Wind Farm hits obstacles but developer still obtimistic

by Thomas P. Caldwell

ALEXANDRIA — Following this town's rejection of an initial agreement with the Wild Meadows Wind Farm, and a similar decision from the Danbury Board of Selectmen this week, opponents of the project were rejoicing, although they recognized that the project is not dead yet. The N.H. Site Evaluation Committee is unlikely to approve the project by Iberdrola Renewables over the town's objections, but there is still room for an agreement, as Iberdrola officials emphasized after learning of the decision.

"We look forward to continued discussion and work with the leaders and citizens of Alexandria with the goal of giving the town a clear picture of the benefits that will come to Alexandria and the region with this local investment," said Iberdrola Communications Manager Paul Copleman.

Local approval is not the only obstacle to this and other wind projects. On Jan. 1, the federal production tax credit expired, an incentive that has spurred the development of wind power and which, when it lapsed briefly in 2012, resulted in a 96 percent decline in new installations, according to Jesse Jenkins, a graduate student and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Wind farm opponents say the tax credit unfairly promotes wind energy over other forms of energy production and forces residents to pay for a technology they dislike. Copleman, however, points out that the PTC also supports solar, biomass, and other renewable energy sources in New Hampshire and that conventional sources of generation have received many times more in incentives.

"Since 1950, 70 percent of all energy subsidies have gone to fossil fuels," Copleman pointed out. "Fossil fuels in their start-up period got five times more in government incentives than renewable energy has, and nuclear got 10 times as much."

Copleman also pointed out that the PTC is granted in short-term increments, "compared to the permanent subsidies embedded in the tax code that have been enjoyed by other sources of generation for decades. The PTC is a performance-based tax credit, not a subsidy, as it only applies to actual renewable energy produced and delivered to the power grid. It drove more than $25 billion in private investment in 2012 in the U.S."

Despite lobbying for an extension of the PTC, its expiration does not immediately pose problems for the wind industry, due to a "safe harbor" provision in the tax code. The Internal Revenue Service ruled that, in general, "Construction of a facility will be considered as having begun on January 1, 2014, if (1) a taxpayer pays or incurs ... five percent or more of the total cost of the facility ... before January 1, 2014, and (2) thereafter, the taxpayer makes continuous efforts to advance towards completion of the facility."

"Should we receive a permit from the SEC," Copleman said, "we believe Wild Meadows would qualify for the recently expired PTC under the rules laid out by the Treasury Department."

As to the question of whether wind projects could exist without the incentive, Copleman said, "Wind energy is increasingly viable and competitive all over the country. The reality is that wind energy is driving electricity prices down, as the wholesale price of wind has dropped 40 percent in the last four years. We are very open to a discussion about a level playing field. With all external costs accounted for, we are confident that modern wind farms like Wild Meadows will be suppliers of affordable energy and unprecedented sources of rural economic development."

He added, "As a clean, competitive, and homegrown source of energy, wind power has proven that it can deliver a significant new source of renewable power, and also generate new revenue for the landowners, towns, and the state."

According to the New York Times, the bulk of those opposing the extension of the PTC have been the generators of other forms of energy who fear that the additional energy from wind farms will depress the price of electricity, cutting into their profits and, in some cases, driving them out of business.

The Times quotes Don Nickles, an energy consultant who represented Oklahoma in the U.S. Senate from 1981 to 2005, as saying that, during the late-night hours when electric demand is low and wind production is high, the value of the kilowatt-hour on the open market is sometimes zero or below. That especially poses a problem for nuclear plants. Unlike coal and natural gas plants that can quickly reduce their output, nuclear plants cannot easily adjust their output and end up paying to generate electricity.

Another argument against wind power is that the economic savings over conventional power are less than expected due to the lowering price of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking". The amount of money saved by using wind over natural gas is significantly less as fracking expands.

Fracking is controversial, however, and if subsidies are a concern, the Department of Energy is heavily supporting the new fracking technology. The Energy Department's new REMOTE initiative is spending millions to develop new technology to enable cost-effective gas extraction in outlying fields.

"If you're serious about the negative consequences of climate change, which is already affecting New Hampshire, then you understand the need for renewable energy that does not burn fossil fuels. Wind energy is far less harmful than energy sources it displaces, and reduces the air pollution associated with climate change, which represents a significant threat to quality of life issues here in New Hampshire," Copleman said.

To those who argue against wind energy because fossil fuels will still be needed, Copleman said, "Multiple statewide polls show strong support for renewable energy and a willingness to tackle climate change. With a stable and consistent regulatory environment, we are optimistic that New Hampshire can continue to be a leader in meeting New England's renewable power needs.

"We understand that not everyone will like looking at them, but only four percent of the area within 10 miles of the project will be able to see it at all. The closest turbine to Newfound Lake will be about 3.8 miles away and to Cardigan Mountain would be four miles. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we talk to people all the time who find them graceful and majestic, and are thankful for the economic and environmental benefits they deliver."

In response to arguments that more wind towers will reduce property values, Copleman cited a comprehensive study by the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory which examined more than 50,000 homes near 67 wind farms in 27 counties in nine states. The study found "no statistical evidence that operating wind turbines have [sic] had any measurable impact on home sales prices."

"The University of New Hampshire's Whittemore School of Business studied property values near the Lempster Wind Farm," Copleman said, "and found no effect from the wind turbines. New Hampshire Public Radio reported in November 2012 that four Realtors® they contacted in and around Lempster say their experiences confirm the UNH study.

"The State of New Hampshire has reviewed property value claims previously and found no basis for concern. In addition, as part of the Wild Meadows SEC application, we provided another study of New Hampshire property values, updating the earlier UNH study of Lempster and also evaluating data for the Groton area," Copleman said.

As for the local opponents to the Wild Meadows project, they are mobilizing to take the fight to Concord.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 02:02

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Inter-Lakes students to be given more time to wash their hands

MEREDITH — Elementary school students in the Inter-Lakes School District will be paying more attention to washing their hands before meals as a result of new administrative guidelines which will be developed after concerns expressed by a Sandwich resident at last night's school board meeting.
Andrea Marshall, a member of the Sandwich Health and Wellness Team, asked that the district's elementary schools in Meredith and Sandwich be allocated time and sink space and be instructed to leave their studies and wash their hands directly before meals.
Her original e-mail request to school administrators called for lengthening the school day by as much as 10 or 15 minutes in order to allow sufficient time for the students to wash their hands, a practice which she said is recommended by the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control.
''This is not a criticism of our schools, but, rather, a serious motion to upgrade hygienic practices in our district,'' wrote Marshall, who said that at the preschool level in Sandwich the practice is common.
She asked that the school district budget for added group sinks and allow a few extra minutes toward integrating the practice fully at both elementary schools.
Marshall said that if the schools did not implement a new policy that she would work to having a petitioned warrant article on the school district warrant to implement a hand washing policy.
Superintendent of Schools Mary Ellen Ormond said that she thought that issuing administrative guidelines would be a better way to move forward than through the adoption of a formal policy by the school board and her suggestion was well received by board members, who told Marshall that they agreed with her concerns.
Ormond said that she would send a copy of her proposed guidelines to Marshall before she circulated them to the schools.
Marshall said she would continue to monitor the schools to see that the goal of improved hygienic practice is being met. ''Those of us who have these concerns will have to look and see if what we would like to see happen is taking place.''
Marshall is an herbalist and wild forager who was among those making presentations in a program on botanical medicine which was presented at the Samuel Wentworth Library in Sandwich last July.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 January 2014 01:56

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Local man sentenced to 41/2 to 11 years in prison for theft

LACONIA — A local man believed to be responsible for a string of break-ins last year, has been sentenced to serve 4½ to 11 years in State Prison after pleading guilty to one count of theft by unlawful taking and for a probation violation that stemmed from a 2011 burglary conviction.

Aaron Marchione, 22, formerly of Parsonage Drive, was sentenced in the Merrimack County Superior Court by Judge Larry Smukler. The case was prosecuted by Deputy Belknap County Carley Ahern, but was tried in Merrimack County because of conflict with the presiding judge in Belknap County.

"We are very happy with the sentence," said Lt. Alfred Lessard. "On the negative side, you hate to see so young of a man going to jail for so many years.

"He committed several burglaries and created hardships for a number of families," Lessard said, adding that police had reason to think Marchione was responsible for as many an eight burglaries in early 2013.

According to Ahern, Marchione pleaded responsible last Friday for violating probation stemming from a prior burglary conviction for drug use, the burglary charge, and for failing to complete a program at the Phoenix House Substance Abuse Program. For the violation he was sentenced to serve 1½ years to five years in prison.

For pleading guilty to theft by unauthorized taking — Marchione had jewelry in his possession from a second-hand store on Pleasant Street — he was sentenced to 3 to 6 years in prison.

Ahern explained that the two sentences area consecutive to each other, meaning he has to serve a minimum of 4½ years. He was credited with 277 days of pre-trial confinement.

As part of the plea, Marchione also pleaded guilty to a second count of theft by unauthorized taking. A 7- to 14-year sentence was suspended for 10 years on condition of good behavior.

He also pleaded guilty to one count of burglary — from November 2012 — and was sentenced to 3-to-6 years to be served concurrently (or at the same time) as the first sentence for theft by unauthorized taking.

Marchione served a year in prison after pleading guilty to burglary in January 2011 for his role in a string of burglaries that occurred over the summer in 2010. He was sentenced to serve 1½ to 4 years in prison and was released in December 2011.

According to records obtained from the Merrimack County Superior Court, at the time of his most recent arrest in late 2012, he had committed at least three probation or parole violations. He was indicted in March 2013.

Marchione's most recent arrest came in late November 2012 when a Windemere Heights family came home and found their house had just been burglarized. They called police who were able to determine Marchione had initially tired to flee by breaking a window in the bathroom.

Police, using foot patrol and a State Police K-9 team, tracked his scent and some blood droplets to 53 Parsonage Drive. Police got a search warrant and found some jewelry and a small box that belonged to the victim.

Marchione also stole two guns from the Windemere Heights house and drew a map for police so they could find the spot in the woods where he had hidden them. Police recovered the guns off Parade Road.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 14 January 2014 04:28

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