Eversource unveiled a new proposal for the controversial Northern Pass project Tuesday. It’s the power company’s latest effort to gain support for its plan to bring hydroelectric power from Canada into New England.
President of Eversource New Hampshire Bill Quinlan made the announcement at Globe Manufacturing in Pittsfield. The backdrop was intended to underscore the potential economic benefits of the project. During the presentation Quinlan took pains to stress that Eversource has listened to the Northern Pass’s many critics.
“We’ve taken all of that feedback," said Quinlan. "We’ve come up with a plan which in my estimation addresses each and every one of those concerns that we’ve heard across New Hampshire.”
Much of this fight has been over whether and how much of this 192 mile project would be buried. Eversource has maintained that burying the entire line isn’t feasible. The latest plan would put a total of 60 miles underground, mainly under the White Mountain National Forest and around Franconia Notch. The old plan buried just 8. The rest of the line – some one hundred thirty two miles -- would remain above ground. According to Quinlan, the new design strikes the right balance.
“The areas we’ve selected to underground are the ones that we’ve heard loud and clear from New Hampshire are the treasured areas that need to be protected.”
Public concern over Northern Pass –particularly in the North Country– has been fierce. The new proposal aims to allay that with money – a two hundred million dollar fund for economic development. And fresh assurances that local rate payers will benefit.
“The issue of what it’s going to do to energy costs I think has been answered quite clearly," said Quinlan. "This project is going to have a significant effect on lowering and taking the volatility out of future energy prices.”
But it’s far from clear that this new proposal will take the volatility out of the fight over Northern Pass.
Jack Savage is with the New Hampshire Forest Society. The group has been critical of the project from the start and has been buying land to block the proposed route. Savage says it’s a step in the right direction, but not enough.
“There’s still two thirds of the line that they’re proposing to build overhead," said Savage. "There are communities and landowners from Clarksville to Deerfield who are going to be negatively impacted by that.”
As to the economic benefits described by Eversource, Savage argues they could go further.
“Tax impacts, job impacts. All of those kinds of things are only enhanced by further burial.”
The project still faces a long approval process. Eversource is hoping to complete the project by 2019 and reaching that goal will depend on convincing regulators of the plan’s merits. Convincing the public though, wouldn’t hurt either.
Eversource plans to hold information sessions in all five counties affected by the proposed route.