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 161 individuals, 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 September of 2017. 

However, once the proceeding got under way, it was clear that even this delay would not allow time to hear from all of the witnesses called by the various interveners. Early in September of 2017 it was delayed again, with a final decision set for the end of February 2018.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

The Northern Pass project will go back before the state Site Evaluation Committee next month.

The panel denied the huge power line proposal in February, and developer Eversource had asked it to reconsider.

Now that its written denial of the project is out, the committee has set a hearing on the issue for May 24 in Concord, with an extra day scheduled for June 4 if necessary.

Weekly N.H. News Roundup: March 30, 2018

Mar 29, 2018

There's been lots of talk about voter fraud in New Hampshire elections - we take a look at the reality found in the data behind the rhetoric.  Massachusetts drops the Northern Pass bid in favor of a Maine transmission line for a major energy project.  We get reaction from local veterans organizations on the firing of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. And, hope springs eternal as the the Red Sox open the 2018 baseball season.

Maine In, N.H. Out for Energy Contract with Massachusetts

Mar 28, 2018
Sam Evans-Brown /NHPR

Massachusetts energy officials have announced they're going with Plan B to bring Canadian hydroelectric power to the Bay State.

They've selected a back-up project that runs transmission lines through Maine, after New Hampshire state regulators refused to allow Plan A – the controversial Northern Pass project.

But the Maine project, known as New England Clean Energy Connect, also faces an uncertain future.

In Massachusetts, the announcement got kudos and criticism from those closely watching the state's selection of a massive clean energy project:

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

New Hampshire regulators on Monday put off a final decision on Eversource’s appeal for its Northern Pass permit.

The state Site Evaluation Committee, or SEC, voted to wait on next steps until the end of March, when they expect to put their earlier denial of the utility's proposed transmission line in writing.

That denial came in early February. Soon after, Eversource asked for the decision to be reconsidered.

On Monday, the SEC declined to take up any such request until after their written decision comes out.

Sunset Power Lines
Michael Kappel/Flickr CC

The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee meets Monday to discuss what to do about Eversource's appeal for its Northern Pass permit.

The meeting comes weeks after the SEC first rejected the proposed transmission line, which would run nearly 200 miles from Canada to New Hampshire.

Eversource's appeal argues that denial didn't give the Northern Pass plan its due consideration.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Eversource is asking New Hampshire regulators to reconsider their rejection of the Northern Pass project.

The utility filed a motion Wednesday with the state Site Evaluation Committee, or SEC. It wants the committee’s Feb. 1 denial of the project thrown out and the case re-heard. Eversource argues the SEC didn’t do its required diligence in discussing all the criteria the project had to meet to get a permit. 

File photo

Massachusetts has picked another big transmission line for a potential energy contract, with the Northern Pass project in doubt.

That new project is New England Clean Energy Connect, which would bring Canadian hydropower through Maine.

Massachusetts regulators announced late Friday they would start negotiating a contract with the project's developer, Central Maine Power Company.

Thomas Gehrke / Flickr Creative Commons

Officials in Massachusetts are still debating the future of a big renewable energy contract for their state.

That’s after their initial pick, Northern Pass, hit a major roadblock in New Hampshire – though the transmission proposal still has support from Gov. Chris Sununu.

The Commonwealth picked Eversource's Northern Pass plan last month for a long-term contract that must start in 2020. That choice was thrown into limbo a week later, when New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee denied the project its final permit.

Michael Kappel via Flickr CC

With the Northern Pass transmission line on the rocks, regulators in Massachusetts are facing a big decision. They had planned to give that project a long term contract, but now might have to pick a different option.

Some are hoping it'll be another New Hampshire project, a transmission line proposal from National Grid called the Granite State Power Link. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with NHPR's energy reporter Annie Ropeik about that project and its prospects.


col&tasha, Flickr

Massachusetts is expected to decide by Friday if it can move forward on a deal with Northern Pass.

Since Eversource was denied a permit by the state of New Hampshire, other developers – large and small – have been eager to step up.

Massachusetts wants to sign a contract or contracts for 1,200 megawatts of renewable power by late 2020.

NHPR Photo

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers wants Gov. Chris Sununu to support another big New Hampshire-based power line, now that the future of the Northern Pass project is in doubt.

The controversial transmission line proposal from Eversource is supposed to get a big contract with Massachusetts to help meet the state's renewable energy goals. But New Hampshire regulators denied Northern Pass its final permit last week. Now, Bay State officials are weighing whether to pick a different option.

Some New Hampshire legislators hope that option will be National Grid’s Granite State Power Link, a competitor to Northern Pass that’s still in the early stages of development. 

Google maps

New Hampshire has put the brakes on the Northern Pass energy project for now, but some towns are still prepared to block it with local laws asserting their view on big utility development.

Plymouth is the latest municipality to approve an ordinance saying certain energy projects, while allowed under state law, are harmful to local health and environment.

When such laws are enforced, developers either have to go elsewhere, or sue to build in town.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

New England utility markets are still processing Thursday’s rejection of the Northern Pass project application at the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee.

Eversource’s 192-mile transmission line proposal had just been picked by Massachusetts for a big contract to bring Canadian hydropower to New England.

Now that the project has stalled, Massachusetts says only that it's re-evaluating. Its other options include other big, hydro-fueled transmission lines.

Stunning Upset for Northern Pass Project

Feb 1, 2018
CREDIT CHRIS JENSEN / NHPR

With the Site Evaluation Committee" unanimous vote denying a permit for Eversource's controversial Northern Pass project, we discuss what prompted the decision, the ramifications for Eversource, as well other energy projects, and the historical context of the proposed 192-mile transmission line through the state.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee has voted unanimously to deny a permit to Eversource's controversial Northern Pass project.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

The state Site Evaluation Committee waded deeper into questions of Northern Pass's impact on the North Country on Wednesday.

Fewer protesters and even fewer supporters were there to listen than on the first day, as members continued their final deliberations on permitting the transmission line.

In discussions of how Northern Pass will affect land-use plans along its route, members seemed to grow more conflicted about how to define the tipping point where the project might become too impactful.

Annie Ropeik for NHPR

UPDATE:  New Hampshire regulators began final discussions Tuesday on whether to grant a permit to the Northern Pass transmission line. 

State officials and public representatives at the Site Evaluation Committee in Concord will meet 12 times between now and Feb. 23.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Massachusetts opted last week for one large power line to cover a big chunk of its energy needs for the next 20-plus years.

The Northern Pass proposal beat out other big transmission projects and dozens of smaller options for the right to supply all renewable power the Commonwealth wants.

As NHPR's Annie Ropeik reports, this has analysts and developers wondering what role smaller projects will play in the future of the grid.

Weekly N.H. News Roundup: January 26, 2018

Jan 26, 2018

Massachusetts picks Northern Pass for major energy contract.  A financially troubled addiction treatment center in Manchester shuts its doors, and sends its services to other local health providers. The N.H.  legislature considers lowering the state's drinking age.  And a massive ice jam on the Piscataquog River causes concerns about Spring flooding.

 


NHPR File Photo

Eversource’s Northern Pass transmission line is the sole project picked for long-term energy contract negotiations with Massachusetts.

Officials made the announcement Thursday afternoon, less than a week before New Hampshire begins its final permitting deliberations on the controversial project.

Northern Pass would carry 1,090 megawatts of power from Hydro Quebec dams to the New England grid, over a partly-buried 192-mile power line. It would run under New Hampshire’s White Mountains and mainly follow existing transmission lines, ending in Deerfield.

Thomas Gehrke / Flickr Creative Commons

Energy developers are set to learn Thursday which of their projects will get long-term contracts to provide 1,200 megawatts of renewable energy to Massachusetts.

Several projects in New Hampshire are in the running.

Developers sent in more than 40 proposals to bring hydro, solar and wind power to Massachusetts, primarily from Northern New England and Canada.

NHPR

Sam Evans-Brown, host of Outside/In, the NHPR podcast about the natural world and how we use it, discusses the podcast's latest series, Powerline. We hear about how the development of the world's fourth-largest hydropower producer, Hydro-Québec, impacted French Canadians, and the indigenous people of Québec...also, how this hydropower company is connected to a controversial power project in New Hampshire, Northern Pass.

This show originally aired on November 29, 2017. 


National Grid Map

Developers behind a transmission line that's competing with Northern Pass to supply renewable energy to Massachusetts will hold a listening session in Concord on Thursday.

National Grid's Granite State Power Link would carry 1,200 megawatts of Canadian wind power through Northern Vermont to Monroe, New Hampshire.

Boston-based nonprofit Citizens Energy is co-developing the project. They'll be at the Concord Holiday Inn from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Thursday to talk about how the power line could benefit low-income families along its route.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

The final witnesses gave testimony on the Northern Pass transmission line Thursday, after eight months of hearings and years of planning.

Day 70 of adjudicative hearings at the New Hampshire site evaluation committee centered on wetlands and property values.

Ray Lobdell, with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, testified in the morning session on whether Northern Pass would affect more sensitive habitat than expected.

Chris Jensen / NHPR

Eight months of hearings on the Northern Pass transmission line are set to wrap up this week.

It's the last step before state regulators start deliberating on the controversial project, which is years in the making.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

  The state won't make a final decision on the Northern Pass project until late February – but Eversource is already recruiting a workforce to build the transmission line if it's approved.

At least 100 residents and business owners from around New England braved snowy roads for a job fair in the White Mountains Wednesday.

Sam Evans-Brown /NHPR

Eversource is recruiting workers and suppliers for the Northern Pass power project, even as it awaits state approval.

The utility will hold job fairs for the major new transmission line in the North Country on Wednesday, and in Concord in January.

Annie Ropeik/NHPR News

The state has three weeks of hearings left before moving into deliberations on the Northern Pass project – so opponents are gathering last-minute comments from residents on the power line's proposed route.

Courtesy: Northern Pass

Northern Pass cleared another hurdle Thursday, receiving a Presidential Permit from the United States Department of Energy.

This is one of the final major federal approvals necessary for the Eversource-backed Northern Pass project, which seeks to bring hydropower from Quebec through New Hampshire on its way to Massachusetts.

CHRIS JENSEN / NHPR

State regulators will spend the day Tuesday touring part of the 192-mile route for the proposed Northern Pass transmission line project stretching the length of New Hampshire.

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