Northern Pass

During a quarterly conference call Thursday officials at Northeast Utilities, the parent company of the Northern Pass project, said while they have a new route they still aren’t ready to say where it goes. 

And that the soonest the project could now get underway is 2017.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen listened in and has this report:

One reason the starting date of Northern Pass has slipped from 2015 to 2017 is opposition to the project.

Northeast Utilities, the parent company of the Northern Pass project, did not announce a new route during a conference call with analysts Thursday morning. 

NHPR’s Chris Jensen listened in and has this report.

Late last year Northern Pass officials said they finally had a new route through the North Country.

But they said they weren’t ready to disclose it.

Then, at the end of March officials basically said the same thing.

Last month Northern Pass opponents complained that U.S. Department of Energy contractors working on the Northern Pass project were trespassing on their land to carry out environmental studies.

That prompted Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte to ask DOE about it.

Now DOE has responded but things are still unclear.

The Department of Energy has chosen Southeastern Archaeological Research Inc. to review the impact of the Northern Pass hydro-electric project on the state’s historical sites, a DOE official says.

The firm has 70 full-time employees “who represent the complete range of disciplines necessary to conduct cultural resource projects,” according to the company’s website.

On a spring day Nigel Manley, the manager of The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, stands on a little knoll and admires the view.

“The Presidential Range. Today snow-covered and absolutely beautiful,” he says.

But this scene could become a new front in the battle opponents of Northern Pass are waging.

Chris Hunkeler / Flickr Creative Commons

Officials with the controversial Northern Pass project – a proposed 180 mile transmission line from the Canadian border to Deerfield – have missed another deadline.

A post on the project’s website states “although we have identified a new route which meets our project requirements, we believe it is in the best of interest of landowners, communities, and all stakeholders for us to continue to build on the details of this proposal and to take the time now to make some additional refinements before we begin the formal public review processes.”

Some North Country landowners are surprised that Department of Energy contractors are gathering environmental information on the Northern Pass project even though the route isn’t complete.

But Patrick Parenteau, a lawyer professor and expert in environmental law at the Vermont Law School, is not surprised.

After some North Country residents complained that U.S. Department of Energy contractors working on the Northern Pass project are trespassing on their land, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte have sent a letter to the federal Department of Energy looking into it.

  The city of Franklin will hire a lobbyist this legislative session to follow the Northern Pass project.

The town stands to gain about $4.2 million dollars annually in property taxes, if the Northern Pass project goes through.  The taxes would be paid by PSNH on a converter station, which will be built in Franklin.

Elizabeth Dragon, the city manager of Franklin, says the city is looking for someone to follow relevant legislation and alert Franklin officials when necessary, “so that if there is a bill that requires us to travel to Concord to testify, we can do that.”

For much of the year officials at Northeast Utilities have been saying they would have the new route for Northern Pass submitted to the US Department of Energy by the end of the year.

But the New Year is here and while nothing has been posted with the DOE Northern Pass says it has a new route.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

In a conference call with analysts early in October Northeast Utilities official Lee Olivier said the company was “still on track” to file a new route with the Department of Energy by the end of the year.

Michael Kappel via Flickr CC

Proposed energy projects are causing a stir among New Hampshire lawmakers. Lawmakers will consider a raft of bills that would change how the state considers and approves such installations.

Senator Kelly Ayotte says he North Country should have a major voice in what happens with the Northern Pass hydro-electric project.

Ayotte spoke about the project while in Pittsburg in the North Country on Friday for a town meeting.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen was there.

Pretty much the first issue raised with Sen. Kelly Ayotte was the Northern Pass project which – if approved – would probably cross the border near here.

“It seems to me you all should have the voice in this.”

A U.S. Department of Energy official has told Senator Jeanne Shaheen that the federal agency did nothing wrong in approving several contractors to work on the Northern Pass project, dismissing allegations to the contrary from the Conservation Law Foundation.

Shaheen wrote the DOE in mid-October saying she was concerned about allegations made by the foundation.

The CLF said it used the Freedom-of-Information Act to obtain a series of emails between the federal agency and a lawyer for Northern Pass.

Paul Filippov for NHPR

Saying the North Country communities “possess unique strengths and face unique challenges” Governor-elect Maggie Hassan has appointed a North Country Priorities team.

The Northern Pass hydro-electric project has a new supporter: The Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber endorsed the project because it believes it will help lower energy bills for businesses, said the chamber’s president and CEO, J. Christopher Williams.

“We have a lot of our large and mid-size companies in southern New Hampshire who are very big consumers of electricity and we are watching our energy costs go up in the future and we are trying to find ways to alleviate that,” he said.

A North Country legislator is proposing a law that would require new electric utility lines to be located along existing highways.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

If Rep. Larry Rappaport’s bill become law, utility companies would be required – as much as possible - to put new electric transmission lines alongside state rights-of-way such as highways.

Rappaport, of Colebrook, contends that would have two benefits.

“The roads are already there."

 It would also help the state with its budget problems.

The Northern Pass Transmission project has taken a big step forward in its search for a route through the North Country – with some help from Yale University.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Northern Pass has signed a deal allowing it to put transmission lines along 20 miles through eastern Coos County.

In a statement Public Service of New Hampshire president Gary Long described the arrangement as “a huge step for the project.”

Last week at a conference in Arizona a top official at Northeast Utilities provided an update on the Northern Pass Transmission project.

But some of his statements are being refuted.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

The industry conference was for electric utility companies, analysts and those interested in the business.

A North Country representative is proposing legislation that would require the Northern Pass Transmission lines to be buried.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Rep. Larry Rappaport of Colebrook is introducing legislation he says could end the fight over the transmission towers proposed by Northern Pass.

Rappaport says his bill would require any utility company undertaking an “elective” project to bury the transmission lines.

“Elective” means the project isn’t needed to improve the overall reliability of the power grid.

About 200 people gathered Wednesday night in Plymouth for public hearing held by a state commission studying whether high-power electric lines such as those proposed by Northern Pass should be buried.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

The commission’s goals include investigating whether it is feasible to bury utility lines on existing state rights-of-way, such as highways.

And the message to the commission from many of those who spoke was that the commission needs to keep working to develop a well-reasoned policy for new utility projects.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

A complaint by Northern Pass against James Walker, a real estate appraiser from the North Country, has been settled.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

James Walker, of Franconia, has agreed to pay a fine to settle a complaint Northern Pass filed with the state’s Real Estate Appraiser Board.  

Northern Pass complained after Walker told a Dalton couple that the project’s electrical towers would reduce the value of their 135 acres by 63 percent.

Northern Pass challenged Walker’s methods, saying the project may have been unfairly harmed.

In August the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said it hoped to raise $2.5 million by October 31st to help it block the Northern Pass project in the North Country.

But it won’t make that fundraising deadline.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

With donations totaling almost $869,000  the Forest Society has fallen about $1.6 million short of its goal.

Nine organizations have joined the Conservation Law Foundation in asking that the U.S. Department of Energy fire the firms selected to conduct an environmental impact statement on the Northern Pass project because of a conflict-of-interest.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Earlier this month the Conservation Law Foundation released emails it forced the  Department of Energy to hand over under the Freedom of Information Act.

The head of Sierra Club Canada says Hydro-Quebec power can’t be considered green. He was in Plymouth Tuesday night. NHPR’s Chris Jensen was there and has this report.

John Bennett is the executive director of Sierra Club Canada. He’s been watching and fighting big hydro-electric dam projects in Canada for decades.

And he told about 100 people at Plymouth State University – including opponents of the Northern Pass project – that the electricity Hydro-Quebec produces by flooding huge areas is not friendly to the environment.

A prominent Canadian environmentalist says opposition to the Northern Pass project has not generated widespread coverage in Canada. The head of the Sierra Club Canada spoke at Plymouth State University Tuesday night.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

John Bennett, the executive director of the Sierra Club Canada, disappointed a group of about 100 Northern Pass opponents when he told them their efforts have received little media attention in Canada.

“It may be showing up in some of the Quebec press but it is not showing up in the national press in Canada.”

The U.S. Department of Energy did nothing wrong in hiring three consultants recommended by Northern Pass, said a spokeswoman for the agency.

Wednesday the Conservation Law Foundation said documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed a lawyer for Northern Pass recommended the firms to conduct a crucial environmental impact statement.

And the agency wrongly hired them.

The environmental impact statement is a pivotal part of the agency’s consideration of whether to grant Northern Pass a Presidential Permit.

The Conservation Law Foundation says the U.S. Department of Energy made a serious mistake by again allowing Northern Pass to help pick the consultants responsible for the crucial environmental impact statement.

“The concern is that the integrity of the federal review is at great risk,” Christophe Courchesne, a lawyer at the foundation, said Wednesday.

The DOE did not respond to the issue raised by the foundation.

A Northern Pass spokesman said Saturday that the project has 99 percent of the land it needs for the new route through Coos, clarifying remarks made Friday by a company executive.

During a conference call with analysts Friday Lee Olivier, an official with Northeast Utilities, said:

“I am pleased to say that we have about 99 percent of that 140-mile right-of-way right now either acquired or we have under agreement. The last essentially one percent we are working through the final details.”

Despite opposition, the Northern Pass project is doing well, according to company officials.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

A new study by the Appalachian Mountain Club says the towers for the Northern Pass hydro-electric project would “visually impact” about 95,000 acres in the state.

That includes about 3,000 acres in the White Mountain National Forest and 9,000 acres around Concord, the report says.

In all 23 towns from Whitefield south to Deerfield would be affected by the towers, the study said.

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