Northern Pass

What Is Northern Pass?

Northern Pass is a proposal to run 192 miles of new power lines from Canada, through northern New Hampshire, south to Concord, and then eastward to Deerfield. The project is a collaboration between Eversource (previously known as Public Service of New Hampshire) and Hydro-Quebec, which is owned by the provincial government of Quebec. The utilities say the $1.6 billion Northern Pass project would transport 1,090 megawatts of electricity from Quebec – which derives more than 90 percent of its power from hydroelectric dams – to the New England power grid.

The Controversy

Northern Pass has proved an incredibly controversial issue in New Hampshire, especially in the North Country
Credit Chris Jensen / NHPR

The project has generated considerable controversy from the beginning. Despite its statewide impacts, many of the projects most dedicated opponents come from the sparsely-populated and heavily forested North Country.

Eversource says the new lines would bring jobs and tax revenue to this struggling part of the state. But opponents of the project say it would mean only temporary jobs for residents when it's under construction. They also say it will deface New Hampshire's forestland, hurting tourism and lowering property values. Depending on the location, developers say the project's towers will range from 85 to 135 feet tall.

Polls have consistently found the public remains sharply divided on this issue.

Some critics have pushed for the entire project to be buried. Politicians ranging from Sen. Maggie Hassan to former Sen. Kelly Ayotte to 2012 GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich have floated this move as having the potential to soften opposition. Eversource maintains this would be too expensive, and would effectively make the project impossible to pursue. 

The Route: Real Estate Chess Plays Out In The North Country 

Northern Pass and its opponents have been fighting over control of land along potential routes
Credit Chris Jensen / NHPR

Northern Pass has considered a number of routes for the project, but has publicly announced three. The first, unveiled in 2011, faced major backlash from North Country residents and environmental groups. 

Over the next couple of years, the project and its primary opponent the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests played a prolonged chess match over parcels of North Country land.  Northern Pass ultimately spent more than $40 million purchasing acres of undeveloped land in the North Country. Meanwhile, the Forest Society undertook an aggressive fundraising campaign and sought a slew of conservation easements to block potential routes.

This maneuvering narrowed the options for Northern Pass.  One lingering possibility was exercising eminent domain.  Northern Pass publicly stated it was not interested in pursuing eminent domain.  But in 2012, in response to strong statewide opposition, the Legislature closed the option altogether, outlawing the practice except in cases where a new transmission line was needed to maintain the reliability of the electric system.

By the spring of 2013, Northern Pass opponents believed the project was essentially "cornered" into trying to route the power line through a large conservation easement, called the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters. The governor at that time, Democrat Maggie Hassan, said she opposed such a move on the part of Northern Pass.

Second Time Around: Northern Pass Announces Alternative Route

In June of 2013, Northern Pass unveiled its second proposed route.  

  Abandoning its previous strategy (and $40 million in land purchases) altogether, the project proposed building along existing state and local North Country roadways in Clarksville and Stewartstown. 

In a nod to project opponents, Northern Pass also said it will bury 7.5 miles of line in Stewartstown, Clarksville, and under the Connecticut River.  That raised the price tag on the project from $1.2 billion as initially proposed to about $1.4 billion.  While opponents said this move was progress, many – including the Forest Society – maintained that Northern Pass should be able to bury all 180 miles of power lines.

Final Route: Burial through the White Mountains

Credit Courtesy: Northern Pass

 After years of continued opposition, Northern Pass made its final concession to critics. It downsized the powerline from an initial proposal of 1,200 megawatts to 1,090 to take advantage of a new technology, known as HVDC lite. This move made it more economical to bury portions of the line, and Eversource said it was now willing to bury 52 additional miles of the project. The new route would be alongside state roadways as the project passed through the White Mountain National Forest.

While the governor called the change “an important improvement,” she also said “further improvements” to the project should be made. The partial burial did not placate the project’s fiercest opponents, but some speculated that it would help the project clear one significant hurdle: whether it would get approval to use public lands from the top official at the White Mountain National Forest. The move pushed the estimated price tag up again, to $1.6 billion, now for a project that would deliver less power.

With its new route in hand, project officials filed to build the project in October of 2015.

Before the Site Evaluation Committee

The application to state officials was likely the longest and most complicated in the state’s history, and 161individuals, interest groups, and municipalities asked to be allowed to participate in the process to evaluate the merits of the project.

Given the size and complexity of the project, many of the interveners pushed for a longer review than the standard one year that state law dictates. In May of 2016, those groups got their wish, and the decision was pushed back 9 months. The final deadline was set for November of 2017. 

Evolving Energy In New England

Apr 24, 2017
Tafe Sa Tonsley; Flickr

As several power plants in New England are planning to retire in the next few years, states are facing pressure to move toward more environmentally friendly power sources. As a result, the Northern Pass Project and other energy infrastructure developments are for looking to Canada, renewable energy, and wind.


Weekly N.H. News Roundup: April 14, 2017

Apr 14, 2017

A bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana hits a snag in the Senate.  All eyes are on two of Governor Sununu's nominees for the Dept. of Labor and the Dept. of Environmental Services.  And the Northern Pass transmission project begins lengthy hearings before the Site Evaluation Committee. 


Josh Rogers for NHPR

Northern Pass interveners and opponents, Eversource staff, and lawyers - many lawyers - gathered in a big, rented room with custard-colored walls. And that’s where they will be every day until these hearings end, weeks from now.

US DOE

  A seven-year battle over the Northern Pass transmission project takes a critical step forward Thursday when a hearing begins on the $1.6 billion plan to bring power from Canada to markets mostly in southern New England.

New Hampshire's Site Evaluation Committee will determine whether it can be built. The hearing, which could last for months, is expected to draw supporters and opponents of the controversial project. One of the first people to testify will be an executive from Eversource, which is proposing the project.

Weekly N.H. News Roundup: March 31, 2017

Mar 31, 2017

The New Hampshire House gets ready to vote on it's version of the state budget, but some conservatives say the Republican-crafted budget is too rich.  New Hampshire's two U.S. senators say they'll vote against Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's Supreme Court pick.  A new energy project coming from Canada and an adverse decision by regulators thickens the plot when it comes to the Northern Pass project.  


National Grid

Utility company National Grid says it wants to build a new transmission line that would bring 1,200 megawatts of renewable power from Canada into New England. The major new project would take a different route than the controversial Northern Pass proposal put forward by Eversource.

File photo

New Hampshire utility regulators have rejected Eversource's plan to purchase about ten percent of the power from the proposed Northern Pass Project.

The proposed agreement would have reserved 100 megawatts of the Northern Pass power line for Eversource.

The deal was rolled out as a way to show that the energy over the power line would in fact benefit New Hampshire rate-payers.

NH Division of Resource and Economic Development

During a previously unannounced trade mission to Montreal, Governor Chris Sununu spoke warmly on Monday about hundreds of years of economic ties between Quebec and New Hampshire.

File photo

A new report from the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy says New Hampshire doesn’t necessarily need to increase energy production to grow the economy.

The report challenges a widely held economic outlook in the state that says new sources of energy, like gas pipelines or transmission wires, are needed to bring down the cost of electricity for business to grow.

Michael Kappel / Flickr CC

  The New Hampshire Supreme Court has upheld a lower court's ruling that the Northern Pass energy project has the right to bury a power line under a North Country highway.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests sued Eversource, saying it didn't have the right to bury the line under land the society owns on Route 3 in Clarksville.

Michael Brindley

 

The contentious Northern Pass transmission line project will have its strongest advocate yet in New Hampshire's corner when Republican Gov.-elect Chris Sununu takes office.

Northern Pass is a plan to bring enough megawatts to power roughly 1 million homes from Canada into the New England energy grid through mostly overhead transmission lines running down New Hampshire.

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

State Senator Jeff Woodburn of Dalton has a little more at stake this election than most of his State House colleagues. If he wins re-election, and his fellow Democrats manage to secure a majority in the Senate, Woodburn is poised to become Senate President, the second-highest ranking official in state government.

But first Woodburn must win re-election to his seat representing the North Country, where he faces an opponent running on a single, very local issue: the Northern Pass energy project. 

Sunset Power Lines
Michael Kappel/Flickr CC

A New Hampshire assistant attorney general representing the public will conduct five workshops from Concord to Colebrook in the coming weeks on the impact the Northern Pass energy project could have on places of scenic beauty or that have cultural or historic significance.

The first of the meetings will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Ashland Elementary School auditorium. Other workshops are scheduled in Concord, Littleton, Colebrook and Lancaster.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

The Northern Pass -- the proposed power line that would connect New England to Canadian hydropower -- has won a victory in Coos County Superior Court. A judge has dismissed a suit brought by the project's primary opponent, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

Sunset Power Lines
Michael Kappel/Flickr CC

State regulators have pushed back a decision on whether to approve the controversial Northern Pass project by nine months.  The deadline for the decision has been set for September 30, 2017. 

State statutes say applications to build major energy facilities should be completed within one year of the application's submission, which would mean the decision would be due in December of 2016.  But that same law also says the committee can suspend  that deadline if doing so is "in the public interest."

Ivo Rocha Jr / Flickr/CC

We’ll check in with where the Northern Pass project stands, and what’s next in the process.

 

GUESTS:

 

Debating N.H.'s Energy Future

Mar 24, 2016
Sabatino Bahir / Flickr/CC

Granite State businesses have long bemoaned New Hampshire's high energy costs, complaining they discourage expansion here and even tempt some firms to leave the state.  Last fall, the Business and Industry Association launched a new campaign called Energize NH to focus attention on what it calls a crisis:  the high price of energy and the need for more infrastructure and supply to lower those costs. The Energize NH campaign comes at a key time, when the Granite State seems engaged in a huge discussion about energy over pipelines and powerlines, and whether other approaches and other ways of thinking are in order, including better efficiency, a smarter grid, and an emphasis on those power sources that don't contribute to climate change.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

More than one hundred groups and individuals were granted the official status of “interveners” before the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, which reviews proposed energy projects. These interveners have the right to file motions on the Northern Pass project, a $1.6 billion proposal that would connect hydroelectric dams in Quebec to the New England electricity markets.

Northern Pass Investing In The Balsams

Mar 7, 2016
Chris Jensen for NHPR

Northern Pass has invested $2 million in the Balsams, developer Les Otten said Monday night at a public hearing in Colebrook, according to a transcript released by a spokesman.

Otten said the money came through Northern Pass’ Forward NH Plan, there were no strings attached and there is the potential for “a more substantial investment.”

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

The Northern Pass project is bidding for a contract to sell a portion of its energy to the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The three states have requested proposals in a process they are calling the "Clean Energy RFP" which they hope will drive down the cost of large-scale renewable energy, by buying in bulk.

The program is accepting bids from utility scale wind, solar and large-scale hydropower projects, as well as hydrogen fuel-cells and even battery storage.

Chris Hunkeler / Flickr Creative Commons

 

The last of a group of state public hearings in five counties where the proposed Northern Pass electrical transmission line would cross is scheduled for Thursday night in Lincoln.

Hartford, Connecticut-based Eversource wants to run a 192-mile transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield, carrying 1,090 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to New England. Backers say it will create jobs and lower costs in a region that pays the nation's highest average cost for electricity.

Opponents have argued it will hurt property values, tourism and the environment.

A North County woman has been named to a Site Evaluation Committee group to consider the Northern Pass project.
 
Rachel Whitaker of Stark will serve as  one of two public members on the subcommittee.  She fills a spot left vacant by the death of Roger Hawk.

The citizen positions are new, following a legislative restructuring of the SEC in an attempt to streamline it and make it more responsive to the public’s concerns.

Northern Pass Transmission

  The city of Franklin will host the first in a series of public information sessions about the proposed Northern Pass project. 

Public hearings have been set for January in five counties where the proposed Northern Pass electrical transmission lines would cross.

Hartford, Connecticut-based Eversource wants to run a 192-mile transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield, carrying 1,090 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to New England. Backers say it will create jobs and lower costs in a region that pays the nation's highest average cost for electricity.

Opponents have argued it will hurt property values, tourism and the environment.

The state board tasked with reviewing and approving large energy projects has accepted the application to build the Northern Pass Transmission line. 

"I've looked at the application. I note that all the state agencies with permitting authority say the application is complete," Commissioner Kathryn Bailey told a packed hearing room at the Site Evaluation Committee, "I have a ton of questions about the application, but I'll start the discussion by saying I think that what they're required to provide in order for us to proceed is complete."

 

The state's Site Evaluation Committee is set to take up the question of whether a utility's application to string power lines from Canada to southern New Hampshire is complete.

The panel meets beginning at 9 a.m. Monday in Concord to consider the application by Eversource to build the Northern Pass transmission project.

The state's public advocate says Northern  Pass is not providing the information needed to back up the benefits it says New Hampshire will receive if the controversial project is approved.

Peter Roth, a senior assistant attorney general appointed to represent consumers in the case, says Northern Pass’ “claimed benefits include lowering the cost of energy, providing low carbon, renewable power, creating jobs, increasing tax revenue and generally growing economic activity.”

Chris Jensen / NHPR

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, one of the state's oldest conservation groups, has asked the Coos County Superior Court to block the Northern Pass project, a power line which would connect New England to Canadian hydropower.

Allegra Boverman / NHPR

 

Gov. Maggie Hassan has asked the U.S. Department of Energy to reschedule public hearings currently planned for December on the proposed Northern Pass project.

The hearings on a draft environmental report on the project also gave the public until Dec. 31 to comment.

Hartford, Connecticut-based Eversource has proposed a 192-mile transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield, carrying 1,090 megawatts of hydro-power produced by Canada's biggest hydro generator, HydroQuebec. It filed an application with the state Site Evaluation Committee last month.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Citing a desire to avoid a confrontation with a legislative committee, the Site Evaluation Committee Wednesday softened proposed a rule involving "public interest" as part of its consideration of new utility projects.

The issue at the meeting was whether the Site Evaluation Committee had gone beyond what the legislature intended when it ordered the body’s reorganization so it would better serve "the public good" and "provide clarity" about its rules and how it makes decisions.

Pages