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Where They Stand: Environmental Issues Energize Debate In Governor's Race

Among the presidential candidates, environmental issues haven’t gotten much play this campaign season.

Here in New Hampshire, that’s not quite the case, especially in the gubernatorial race where issues like Northern Pass, solar and wind energy and high energy costs have helped shape the campaign.

As part of our series “Where They Stand,” we've created an interactive guide on how Democrat Colin Van Ostern and Republican Chris Sununu differ on environmental issues.

Scroll down for the interactive and listen to the radio version of this story.


If you get the chance to see Colin Van Ostern out on the stump this year, you’ll likely hear something like this:

“The future that I see for our state is one where we can double the amount of solar power in New Hampshire that is outputted just in the next two to four years. And that is exciting because it will be great for our economy, it will hold down energy costs, and it will help our entire economy grow.”

He said that in September at a solar farm in Lee.

Van Ostern talks about his support of solar as a way to separate himself from Chris Sununu -  sometimes forcefully - as he did in September, during a candidate forum moderated by The Exchange host Laura Knoy.

“I think he’s probably voted against more solar and renewable energy projects than any politician in state history. I would love someone to compile a whole list,” Van Ostern said.

“Is the Executive Council voting on solar array projects?,” moderator Knoy asked.

“Let’s be clear – I’ve voted for far more renewable projects than I’ve said no to,” Sununu responded.

Van Ostern is referring to votes on a wind project in Berlin and solar projects in Manchester, Durham and Peterborough. Van Ostern voted for all of them and Sununu against – at times as the sole nay-sayer.

But Sununu argues it’s not that black and white.

“Colin Van Ostern is right - he has been a rubber stamp and voted for every single project without question since the day he took over as the Council," Sununu said. "I bring discernment, judgment and frankly just good common sense to make sure we do it right.”

Colin Van Ostern spoke in September at the Oyster River Forest Solar Array in Lee, a project he voted for while on the Executive Council.

Sununu has supported clean energy projects in the past but stresses only when they’re financially viable and energy efficient. 

Another issue the two don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on isNorthern Pass. This controversial project proposes building a 192-mile transmission line from Canada through northern New Hampshire, and then east to Deerfield.

Sununu backs the project – saying it will drive down the cost of energy in the state. Van Ostern opposes it, and says the latest proposal to bury 60 miles of lines doesn’t go far enough.

Currently, Northern Pass is working its way through the permit process both with state and federal regulators.

There are areas where the pair agrees, such as raising the cap on net metering, efforts to conserve and preserve the state’s natural resources and cutting the cost of energy.

As the CEO of Waterville Valley Ski Resort, Sununu says these costs affect the way he runs his business. He asserts the state needs a stakeholder in the corner office who understands that.

Credit Casey McDermott, NHPR
Chris Sununu says as CEO of Waterville Valley Ski Resort he truly understands the burdens of high energy costs in N.H.

“We don’t have a truly viable long-term energy plan in this state – it’s one of my biggest frustrations," Sununu said at the forum.

"When you see the manufacturers leaving – BAE, Foss, Ruger – they are doing expansion projects out of state, I understand exactly why because I’m living with the same burdens that they have to live with.”

But you’ll hear that same pitch from Van Ostern, who often touts his experience in manufacturing working with Stonyfield Farm – a yogurt company based in Londonderry.

Both candidates agree the state needs more sources of energy, but when it comes to the details - the projects and policies that could solve the problem -  that's where Van Ostern and Sununu differ.

Sara has been a part of NHPR since 2011. Her work includes data visualizations, data journalism, original stories reported on the web, video, photos and illustrations. She is responsible for the station's visual style and print design, as well as the user experience of NHPR's digital platforms.
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