Executive Councilor: Sununu Needs To Do More Outreach On Northern Pass

Aug 30, 2017

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

A public hearing will be held Wednesday in Concord to hear from residents on the proposed Northern Pass project, the next step in the state Site Evaluation Committee's review process.

The panel is expected to vote sometime later this year on whether to approve the $1.6 billion project.

If approved, the Northern Pass would run from Pittsburg to Deerfield, carrying hydroelectricity from Canada into southern New England.

The project recently got a key recommendation from the U.S. Department of Energy, which concluded it would not have a significant impact on the environment.

Still, many Granite Staters remain opposed, including Executive Councilor Joe Kenney. The Republican represents northern New Hampshire and he's among those scheduled to speak at Wednesday’s public hearing. 

He joined NHPR’s Morning Edition.

You've spoken out against this project, but what have you been hearing from constituents in the past month or two?

Last year I spoke out quite strongly against this. Obviously, it's getting down to the wire. And what I'm hearing from a lot of constituents is obviously concerns with the process the project overall and whether or not it really is in the public interest. And I'm asking elected officials in the state of New Hampshire to now weigh in on whether or not they support or do not support Northern Pass because if you're going to be silent, you're basically in concurrence with the project in my judgment. This is one of the most monumental projects since probably Seabrook. It's going to potentially impact many generations if it goes through. So what I'm hearing from people are they're concerned about some of the processes right now with regards to the right away width up in Easton and Franconia and Clarksville, whether the high voltage direct currents can really be built underground, under the rivers and under these roadways. So that's the latest concern that I've heard with regards to this specific aspect of the project. But from the get go, the negatives have always outweighed the positives.

Executive Councilor Joe Kenney
Credit Allegra Boverman

So for you, it’s ultimately about whether this is a good deal for New Hampshire.

Absolutely, and in my judgment from the get go is it has not been a good deal in the sense that the power's going to be distributed into the New England grid. We're not going to see electricity rates go down. The Forward Fund in my judgment…the Tillotson Fund has far more impact in that part of state, with over $300 million, millions of dollars that it gives out to support North Country people. The Forward Fund, we know why it's been developed and presented. However, it will never have the impact of the Tillotson Fund.

Do you agree that there is an issue as far as energy is concerned in the Granite State, and in New England in general? Are you opposed to any energy project that would bring power in from Hydro-Quebec?

We have the National Grid project, a program called the Granite State Power Link, which is proposing to expand its power lines through western Grafton County from Hydro-Quebec. And that project, which would bring in 1,200 megawatts of energy, that's a project I could support. The reality is there is already a pre-existing line they just have to retrofit some of the power lines and it will work. We don't need to build another energy right of way that we already have here in New Hampshire

Governor Chris Sununu is backing Northern Pass. Has he done enough to hear those concerns and talk to people in the North Country?

It's my judgment that he needs to go into the North Country on a listening tour to speak to people directly about this project. Whether they are for or against, they expect representation on the issue. And I have not seen the governor specifically speak on that topic, which he should in my judgment.

Under the proposal 60 miles of the 192- mile project would be buried, including the portion that does run through the White Mountains. You've said that if it does get approved it should all be buried but how realistic is that given the cost consideration?

Well, that’s just it. In my judgment, it shouldn't be built at all. And so if there is a cost consideration – the Chinese built the Great Wall of China, the Egyptians built the pyramids – it's a project that can be done underground and if there's a cost associated with that, so be it. But you can never replace the North Country or its beautiful mountains and scenery

Eversource says ultimately their plan would have no visual impact along the Appalachian Trail or in the Franconia Notch area, and that more than 80 percent of the project would actually be underground or along existing power line rights of way. What do you have to say to that?

(Sununu) needs to go into the North Country on a listening tour to speak to people directly about this project. Whether they are for or against, they expect representation on the issue, and I have not seen the governor specifically speak on that topic.

Well, I've looked at some of their images on their website and I can tell you right now the image they have looking out from the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield, that's not where people are looking at. They go to the high ground and Route 3 as they overlook the valley in Whitefield, and that's where you're going to see the high powered lines. I just climbed Mt. Lafayette over the weekend. If you go up those beautiful mountains, there's going to be locations you're going to see that power line. You can't get away from Northern pass having a visual impact here in New Hampshire.

What's been your take on the Site Evaluation Committee's process? This has been going on for years now. Do you feel that it's been transparent?

I think it's been an open, fair process. They did do a site tour up north a few weeks ago. Many of them have just touched base in northern New Hampshire for the first time, probably in many years to get a feel what's going on on the ground, particularly with those roadways that are going to be impacted. So I think it's been a fair process. There's been a good exchange. I know these people are under a lot of pressure and they're doing a lot of great work and putting in the hours and going to these hearings. I ultimately will hope that they'll vote this application down, but at the same time I've always put faith in good New Hampshire people to do the right thing.