Northern Pass

The Northern Pass project would span across 140 miles of NH to deliver Canadian hydropower to the regional power grid
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
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
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.

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 / https://flic.kr/p/9NC6L6

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.

CREDIT EDGARS STRODS / FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

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.

MICHAEL KAPPEL/FLICKR CC

    

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.

MICHAEL KAPPEL/FLICKR CC

    

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.

www.shaheen.senate.gov

 

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.”

Sunset Power Lines
Michael Kappel/Flickr CC

A group representing power plants all over New England has asked regulators to weigh in whether Northern Pass is receiving inappropriate subsidies from Public Service of New Hampshire.

At issue is what’s the definition of a “competitive affiliate.” These are companies that the utility owns, and which provide similar services. The New England Power Generators Association or NEPGA, a group that represents PSNH competitors and opposes Northern Pass, argues in a filing submitted to regulators at the Public Utilities Commssion on Monday that is what Northern Pass is to PSNH.

Sunset Power Lines
Michael Kappel/Flickr CC

A new federal report about an electric transmission project in New York says there are a lot of good reasons to bury such lines and that is likely to give opponents of Northern Pass ammunition in their campaign to get the lines underground...

The U.S. Department of Energy analyzed the impact of the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express, which hopes to carry power from Canada to the New York metro area.

The Northern Pass project was one of the topics covered during a debate Wednesday on WGIR among three candidates seeking the Republican nomination in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District to oppose incumbent Democrat Ann McLane Kuster this fall.

State Representative Marilinda Garcia of Salem said she visited the North Country recently and recognizes the opposition and concerns about the project involving private property rights and the benefits going to other states. 

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

New Hampshire is hosting the latest summit between the governors of the New England states and the Premiers of Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. The conference takes place Monday at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, and follows a similar meeting held in Quebec last September

Daniel S. Hurd via Flickr CC

There was movement on energy policy in both chambers of the New Hampshire legislature today. While reforming the approval process for power plants sailed through the House, rules encouraging burial of power lines got hung up in the Senate.

After making a few changes to a Senate version, on a voice vote the New Hampshire house passed changes to how proposed power plants get a permit. That means if the Senate agrees to the House version beginning in July, new projects will need to increase the amount of public outreach they do before submitting applications to be built.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin says he stands ready to help New Hampshire find an alternative route for the controversial Northern Pass project. The governor was speaking at an event hosted by the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

US DOE

The US Department of Energy has released a list of the options that it is studying as alternatives to the Northern Pass Transmission Project. Substitutes for the controversial connection to Canadian hydro-power will be part of the Department of Energy’s Environmental Impact Statement.

A new  survey, conducted on behalf of the Nashua Chamber of Commerce, found growing support for the controversial Northern Pass project.

The poll, taken last month  by the UNH Survey Center for the Nashua Chamber, which backs Northern Pass,  showed 46 percent favor the proposal and 35 percent oppose  it.

The survey also found limited enthusiasm for requiring the burial of all Northern Pass Transmission lines.

Chris Williams is the Nashua Chamber's President.

Northern Pass opponents are hoping a 7-year-old boy on YouTube will prompt people to sign a petition asking Gov. Hassan to fight harder against the project.

The YouTube video starts with the child, identified only as “Tucker,” listing his favorite trees.

It shows lovely scenery and then electric transmission towers appear.

About 6,400 people, businesses or organizations, with about 68 percent from New Hampshire, filed comments with the US Department of Energy about the controversial Northern Pass project and now the federal agency has issued a summary of the concerns.

The Department of Energy sought the comments as it considers whether to allow Northeast Utilities, the parent of Northern Pass, to bring electric power from Canada.

Lawmakers in the Senate are scheduled to take up a series of much-anticipated energy bills today. There are four energy bills on the docket today, three of which are responses to controversial energy projects.

One would create state-owned rights of way for any new transmission line not needed to keep the lights on as determined by the regional grid operator. If passed developers would have to bury power lines, unless they could prove that isn’t feasible.

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