What's Happening With The Northern Pass Project?

Sep 13, 2017

The decision on the hydro-electric transmission project, which would bring power from Canada to New England, has been postponed yet again. We review the goals of this $1.6 billion proposal and examine how the debate around it has changed since it was first presented in 2010.


Check out the most recent map of the Northern Pass Project from NorthernPass.us:

GUESTS: 

  • Sam Evans-Brown - Host of Outside/In, a podcast about the natural world and how we use it, from NHPR.
  • Martin Murray - Manager of Media Relations for Eversource Energy, and spokesperson for the Northern Pass Project.
  • Garry Rayno - Reporter for InDepthNH, where he has been covering Northern Pass. 
  • Howie Wemyss - General manager for the Mount Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center. 

Highlights from the conversation:

Sam Evans-Brown, host of Outside/In, describes the project:

It actually begins north of the border, sort of around Sherbrooke, Canada, and comes down through Quebec in the New Hampshire border. And then it starts coming into the North Country, where its all new right-of-way [paths where power lines are located]. There's about 40-some miles of new electric transmission right-of-way that the project developer has purchased and will be putting the power lines into. 

There is then a quick eight-mile section of underground [construction] where it is sort of getting under a blockade of conservation land that opponents purchased early on in this whole process. And then it comes back above-ground, where it shoots down to the White Mountain National Forest, and goes underground again for 52 miles, before popping up and heading to Franklin, New Hampshire, where there'll be a terminal where power will transition from being direct current to alternating current. 

And then we have alternating current lines that go from Franklin to Deerfield, New Hampshire, another 34 miles. And Deerfield, New Hampshire is where this power is dispersed on the New England grid. 

Garry Rayno, of InDepthNH, discusses the economics:

Well, you go back to 2010, when it was first proposed, and think back to those times: natural gas prices were very high, and New England is very dependent on natural for its electricity. Some people will say it's too dependent...

With Hydro-Quebec [which is where the power will come from], the investment is all up front. Once the project is built, and so on, you don't have to keep buying fuel for it because you have water, so you have a more stable price. And that was quite a bit lower than what you had [with] natural gas prices.

Well, since that time, natural gas prices have come way down, and they look to be stabilized for quiet some time now. And now, [Northern Pass] is not quite so economically a slam dunk. It's a little more dicey. 

Martin Murray, spokesperson for the Northern Pass Project, responds to a listener concern that this project will not benefit taxpayers:

I think... these concerns are rooted in what I really believe is some bad information, and some misrepresentation about what the project is, and what it is not...

You have to look at this from a regional perspective. The fact is, any new source of energy we ignore is something else that goes into the New England regional power pool, [and] will have an impact on what the price of the power in the power pool will be. That impacts every single customer in New England... It will bring down the wholesale cost of energy.

Listener Jack Savage, of the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests, says that public input at the SEC [Site Evaluation Committee] has been "overwhelmingly opposed to Northern Pass...[which] raises the question as to whether it should be approved with such public opposition."

Murray says that this opposition does not represent many people in New Hampshire:

Certainly there are people that would rather this project not exist at all. Others believe that we ought to be buried underground. Others believe in and do support it as we have proposed. And I don't think that should be diminished, because there are a large number of folks that do support this project as proposed. They may not be as vocal. They may not be as involved, and you can draw your own conclusions about why those who might support the project might not be as vocal as those who oppose it...

We believe we have a very good case that we've made, and we're looking forward actually to the next six months, because we will be able to talk to some of those interveners who oppose the project. 

General Manager for Mount Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails, Howie Wemyss, says that there are many reasons to oppose the project:

I've been running the Auto Road for 30 years now, and I think I have a fairly decent feeling of what people are looking for, and they come to Northern New Hampshire for tourism... I really hope [Northern Pass] doesn't go forward frankly in any scenario, but especially in the aerial scenario. But [Martin Murray] made a statement a couple of times that basically traffic or construction delays are just part of the traveling experience and have no impact on tourism. That's absurd, to put it mildly...

If this line is going to come down here at all, it needs to buried in its entirety.

Wemyss responds to Southern Tier manufacturing companies that want the lower energy prices that will come with Northern Pass:

I understand their concern, and we pay the same high rate for electricity up here in our much smaller businesses...We've attacked it on an individual basis, with going with renewable power in a couple of different sources here on our campus at the Mount Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails. 

And I know a lot of manufacturers perhaps perceive that they simply can't do that. But I wish that some of these larger utilities and fossil fuel companies would get a little more involved in renewable energy because clearly it's the future. And if they jump on the bandwagon new, we could be manufacturing solar panels here in New Hampshire, instead of buying them from Canada, or worse, China. 

Related Reading:

Read complete Northern Pass coverage since 2010 from NHPR.

Find InDepthNH's complete Northern Pass coverage here

Sam Evan's-Brown wrote about Northern Pass in 2014 for NH Magazine. His article discusses other similar power project proposals in New Hampshire.