Northern Pass

The Northern Pass project would span across 140 miles of NH to deliver Canadian hydropower to the regional power grid
Credit Edgars Strods / Flickr Creative Commons

What Is Northern Pass?

Northern Pass is a highly controversial proposal to run new 180 miles of new power lines from Canada, through northern New Hampshire, down to Concord, and then eastward to Deerfield. The project was originally a collaboration between three utilities: Northeast Utilities, the parent company of Public Service of New HampshireNSTAR, and Hydro-Quebec. (Northeast Utilities later merged with NSTAR.) The utilities say the $1.1 billion Northern Pass project would transport up to 1,200 megawatts of hydropower from Canada to the New England power grid.

What Northern Pass Needs

Northern Pass needs 40 miles of new electrical lines to run across forest land from the Canadian border to Groveton, in northern New Hampshire. In order to run the lines, Northern Pass needs to secure rights-of-way through the 40 mile tract. After that, developers say, PSNH’s existing rights-of-way are enough to continue transmission of power southward.  The exception being an eight mile stretch of land spanning Concord, Chichester, and Pembroke.  To make this happen, Northern Pass also wants the right-of-way adjacent to the Concord Municipal Airport.

The Controversy

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

Despite its statewide impacts, Northern Pass has proved an incredibly controversial issue in New Hampshire, especially in the North Country

Despite its statewide impacts, Northern Pass has proved especially controversial--and divisive--in the sparsely-populated and heavily forested North Country. Northern Pass staffers say the new lines would bring much-needed jobs and new tax revenue to a struggling part of the state.

But opponents of the project say it would only offer a few temporary jobs for residents when it's under construction. They also say it will deface New Hampshire's famous forests, hurting tourism. And they argue the noise and fractured view will impinge on residents' quality of life. Depending on the location, developers say the project's towers will range from 85 to 110 feet tall.  Opponents say they could actually be up to 135 feet tall.  Some Granite Staters also question whether the state will actually benefit from the hydropower flowing southward into the New England grid.

A popular compromise position is burying the project's lines.  Politicians ranging from Governor Maggie Hassan to GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich have floated this move as having the potential to soften opposition.

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 two. The first, unveiled in 2011, faced major backlash from North Country residents and environmental groups and was quickly dropped.  Over the next couple of years, the project and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests played a prolonged chess match over parcels of North Country land.  Northern Pass offered landowners inflated prices for acreage, ultimately spending more than $40 million.  Meanwhile, the 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.

By the spring of 2013, Northern Pass opponents believed the project was essentially "cornered" into trying to make it through the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters conservation easement.  Governor 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, Stewartstown.  As the Concord Monitor reported, that would bring the number of private properties hosting Northern Pass towers from 186 to 31.  But, it would also curb interference from private groups.  Under the new plan, Northern Pass would be subject to state and federal permitting processes.

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 raises the price tag on the project from $1.2 billion to about $1.4 billion.  While Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests has noted this move is progress, its position is that Northern Pass should be able to bury all 180 miles of power lines.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has declared the landscape along the 192-mile route Northern Pass wants to use for its transmission lines to be a “national treasure" and says the project threatens “New Hampshire’s historic character.”

Chris Jensen for NHPR

In Whitefield Wednesday night, Northern Pass officials told Coos residents burying the entire transmission line would be so expensive the project couldn't move forward.

The public meeting for Coos County was one of a series required by the state before Northern Pass can seek approval from the state's Site Evaluation Committee.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Wednesday night marked the first in a series of open houses during which Eversource is presenting its latest proposal for a power line that will connect the massive hydro-electric dams of Quebec all the way down to the town of Deerfield, New Hampshire.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Democratic U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen called the most Northern Pass recent proposal an important step forward, but says she’s not yet ready to endorse the project.

Speaking with NHPR’s Morning Edition, Shaheen says while she’s pleased more of the project’s power lines would be buried, she still has concerns about its impact.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte says she’s not satisfied with Eversource’s plan to bury an additional 52 miles of the controversial Northern Pass project.

The utility said last week it would bury a total of 60 of the 192 miles.

“They certainly made a step forward, but I think there is more that they could do,” Ayotte told NHPR.

In 2013 Ayotte told NHPR the entire line should be buried.

But Saturday she stopped short of saying that’s still her position.

She said she is still studying the change.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Friends and foes of the Northern Pass project will have another chance to express their views next month at a series of public meetings around the state.

Under state regulations Northern Pass must hold such meetings at least 30 days before it can file an application with the Site Evaluation Committee.

In addition to federal approval the SEC’s approval is necessary for the project to be built.

The format includes a project overview  from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m. There will be questions and answers from 6:30 to 7:30 with comments taken from 7:30 to 10:30 pm.


Officials with Northern Pass, the controversial hydropower project, have announced an offer to bury an additional fifty-two miles of power lines – roughly a third of the total. But opponents still have concerns, including impacts on the environment and property values. We’ll get the latest, hear from both sides, and find out what might be next. 

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.

Allegra Boverman / NHPR

Political reaction was mixed to the revised Northern Pass proposal released on Tuesday.

Eversource officials say they’re now willing to bury 52 miles of lines through the White Mountains. That means 60 miles of lines, or nearly a third, of the 192-mile route would be buried.

Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem called the changes a major improvement and a great opportunity for the state.

“I am pleased to be able to support the Northern Pass project as now revised,” Morse said.

Department of Energy

Last week Eversource official Lee Olivier told analysts that the company still thinks completely burying the Northern Pass line is “unnecessary” and “prohibitively expensive.”

But, he said, some additional burial might be possible.

That comes in response to the release of a new report from the Department of Energy that includes a look at the issue.

For years opponents of the controversial Northern Pass project have contended the overhead transmission lines could be buried.

And Northern Pass officials have insisted burial is too expensive.

File photos / NHPR


New Hampshire's Congressional delegation wants the public to get more time to comment on the proposed Northern Pass power transmission project.

The Department of Energy released its long-awaited environmental impact report on the project Tuesday, saying the plan to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec into southern New England on high-voltage lines through New Hampshire could hurt tourism, wildlife and property values — but would cost less than other alternatives.

The Department of Energy has released a long-awaited draft of its Environmental Impact Statement examining the Northern Pass project as well as alternatives including complete or partial burial.

The agency found that full burial of the lines would have the smallest impact visually but would be about twice as expensive.

However, it would also provide about 1,500 jobs, almost twice as many as putting the lines overhead.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

State officials have again found fault with a federally required review of Northern Pass' potential impact on historical sites.

This is the second time within a month that the state’s Division of Historical Resources has taken issue with the federal review called Section 106.

As part of the permitting process, the Department of Energy must look at the potential impact to historical sites or views along Northern Pass’s proposed route. 

mwmn via Flickr CC /

The organization behind the “Ride the Wilds” ATV network in the North Country is in talks with Northern Pass about getting a multimillion-dollar donation. But the founder of the group says accepting such a donation would not indicate Ride the Wilds endorses the controversial project.

Under the terms being discussed Northern Pass would give the North Country Off Highway Recreational Vehicle Coalition as much as $500,000 immediately, along with about 1,100 acres of land in the Diamond Pond area in Stewartstown and Colebrook. That land is valued at about $1.5 million.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

New Hampshire officials are not happy with the quality of a federal report that is supposed to gauge the Northern Pass’ impact on historic places and landscapes.

The critics are from the state’s Division of Historical Resources and the subject is what’s called a Section 106 review.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Eversource Energy says it has come to an agreement with an electrical union that will funnel more work to New Hampshire residents.

The company has proposed three major transmission projects. The most well-known is the controversial power line that would connect New England to Canadian hydro-power called the Northern Pass, but also two upgrades in the southern part of the state needed to beef up weak spots in the grid – the Seacoast and the Merrimack Valley reliability projects.


An important part of evaluating the impact of the Northern Pass project is a federal requirement for a historical review.

It’s called a Section 106 and it is supposed to determine whether the construction of Northern Pass – including the visual impact - will adversely affect any of the state’s historical sites.

It calls for public involvement – and the state’s congressional delegation - has said the Northern Pass review overall should be transparent. 

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Organizers of the opposition to Northern Pass – along with a state senator - on Sunday said it is time to prepare to persuade state regulators that - in its current form - the project is a mistake.

About 120 people filled the Easton Town Hall.

The gathering was called because Northern Pass will soon be asking the state’s Site Evaluation Committee to approve the controversial project.

Without that approval, the project can’t move ahead.

Anyone can provide comments to the SEC.



Within the next two months the U.S. Department of Energy is expected to release its draft report on the environmental impact of the controversial Northern Pass project.

That federal report could propose some changes in the route and a top Northern Pass official says the company has been looking at options should modifications be needed...

The issue came up during a recent conference call with analysts.

One of them asked about a 1,090 megawatt project recently listed with ISO New England.



Assuming the Northern Pass project is approved, it will not be fully operational until the first half of 2019, Eversource Energy official Lee Olivier said during a conference call with analysts.

That’s a delay of about six months, which Olivier said was due in part to an extended regulatory process.

When the project was announced late in 2010 officials said it should be operating by 2015. But that was before it became a highly controversial project opposed - in its current form - by politicians including Gov. Hassan.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

The approval process for Northern Pass is ramping up and so is the battle for public support.

Last month Northern Pass and its parent company Eversource Energy donated $3 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to be used on conservation projects in New Hampshire.

But there’s some controversy over it now and NHPR’s Chris Jensen has been looking into the donation and why some conservation groups are reluctant to accept the money.  He joins us now.

Officials from Northern Pass are complaining that opponents have used misleading elements in a new YouTube video about its plan to run power lines through Concord if the controversial project is approved.

The video argues unless the power lines are buried there will be an adverse visual impact on Concord.

But Northern Pass says the video exaggerates the impact and has misleading material.

A major complaint is a scene showing a playground at Alton Woods without any electric towers.


A North Country group says $200,000 provided by the Northern Pass is now available to businesses in Coos County hoping to maintain or increase employment.


New Hampshire's congressional delegation is asking the federal Department of Energy to extend the time the public has before commenting on what is expected to be a voluminous environmental impact report on the proposed Northern Pass power transmission project.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Eversource Energy and the Northern Pass Transmission project have announced a large donation to support conservation projects in New Hampshire. The $3 million donated by Eversource will be given to local conservation projects through grants administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

“That’s a huge donation. It represents our largest New England corporate donation in the history of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation,” said David O’Neil, vice president of NFWF.

Three North Country legislators were among those who voted to kill a bill that would have recommended - but not required - elective, electric transmission lines on towers over 50 feet high be buried, ideally along state rights-of-way.

The bipartisan bill - H.B. 431 - was sponsored by Larry Rappaport, a Republican from Colebrook and several other North Country representatives. 

PSNH via Flickr CC

Two business owners opposed to the Northern Pass project won't get to pursue their lawsuit against Public Service Company of New Hampshire.

The co-owners of Owl's Nest Resort and Golf Club in Campton and Thornton in northern New Hampshire said news of the proposed a 187-mile electrical transmission line across the state hurt their business. They said when the project was announced in 2010, their sales fell and their business faced bankruptcy.

Gov. Maggie Hassan is making nominations to the Public Utilities Commission and to a committee that would allow permitting for energy projects like the Northern Pass. 

She's nominating Martin Honigberg of Concord to serve as chairman of the Public Utilities Commission at Wednesday's Executive Council meeting. She's also nominating Patricia Weathersby of Rye and Roger Hawk of Concord to the Site Evaluation Committee. 

The council must confirm the nominations. 

In a debate Thursday morning on WGIR, Governor Maggie Hassan repeatedly went after Republican Walt Havenstein for a pledge he signed earlier this year with the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

“By singing that Koch brothers pledge, he is pledging to undo our Medicaid expansion, he’s pledging no matter what to do what the Koch brothers and Americans for Prosperity tell him to do.”