Among the many issues facing gubernatorial candidates this year is the Northern Pass project.
During the last race for governor two years ago, the Northern Pass project made only a brief appearance.
In October of 2010, Governor Lynch took a break from campaigning to announce the Northern Pass project at a press conference in Franklin.
Two years later the project has become controversial.
Sounds of protest for No Northern Pass
At one of about a dozen Northern Pass protests statewide last Saturday, Dolly McPhaul of Sugar Hill says she wants to know how each of this year’s gubernatorial candidates feels about the project.
“They have a lot of pull. And what they say means a lot to the people around.”
The governor has no direct role in approving the project. The US Department of Energy and the state’s Site Evaluation Committee have to give the final go-ahead.
But for many in the North Country and across the state, Northern Pass could be a factor in the voting booth.
Northern Pass is Public Service of New Hampshire’s plan to bring hydro-electric power from Canada about 180 miles through the state.
Some of the towers carrying that power could be 13 stories tall.
PSNH says the project would bring hundreds of construction jobs and renewable energy to the region.
Opponents say the towers would hurt property values, scenic views and tourism all so that two large corporations could profit.
Following strong, community objections Northern Pass has withdrawn a key element of its original plan which called for cutting a new, 40-mile corridor through Northern Coos.
It is now seeking a new route through Northern Coos although it is still likely to require cutting.
No candidate for governor this year expressed approval of the original route or the idea of the huge towers.
But there isn’t a take-no-prisoners rejection of the project either.
After all, it’s proposed by one of the state’s most powerful corporate citizens.
And construction and electrical workers – who hope to be employed - vote, too.
All the candidates say the project might be okay if the transmission lines are buried.
But beyond that there are some variations.
Democrat Jackie Cilley says New Hampshire shouldn’t simply be a conduit for a for-profit corporation.
“We don’t trade our land to a for-profit company. We don’t trade our sky scape. We don’t trade our tourism jobs, some of which go back generations, to a for-profit company.”
As governor she says she would urge the state’s Site Evaluation Committee “to not approve a plan that included towers that interfered with the scenic beauty of our state.”
Democrat Maggie Hassan says she’s waiting to see the new route being sought by Northern Pass.
“Any proposal that they come forward with must be supported by the communities that are going to be affected. I think it is very important to take into consideration our scenic views and natural landscape because they are such valuable assets.”
She is also concerned that the Site Evaluation Committee hears what she calls “public voices” and seriously considers them.
Democrat Bill Kennedy says before he could approve Northern Pass he has a lot of requirements. No eminent domain; guaranteed construction jobs for New Hampshire; a clear benefit such as a drop in utility rates and protection of the environment and scenery.
For the Republicans, the issue is much the same. There’s no outright rejection of it, but there are a lot of cautionary statements.
Republican Ovide Lamontagne says before the project goes forward it has to be clear how the state benefits.
“I certainly would want us to have a power-purchase agreement in place that provides New Hampshire access to that power at a below-market price and also give us the ability to have the right of first refusal on that power shouldthere be an interruption with the grid.”
He says as governor he would closely watch the Site Evaluation Committee’s process to make sure that “people’s interests are protected and their voices are heard.”
Republican Kevin Smith says he is greatly concerned about the impact on those living along the route.
“I think it would have a devastating effect on the landscape but also on the value of the private property owners that are going to be the path of the right-of-ways.”
“The property rights of the private-property owners trump everything.”
If elected Smith says he would appoint department heads who share his concerns about the project.
Some of those department heads would make up the Site Evaluation Committee.
Republican Robert Tarr says he doesn’t support the current Northern Pass plan and thinks there are better alternatives.
The controversy over the Northern Pass project has been felt most keenly in the state’s North Country but it has also gotten traction south of the notches.
However, it remains to be seen just how key it will be to statewide voters next Tuesday …