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.

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.

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.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Over the next year, the state’s Site Evaluation Committee will consider whether to okay the controversial Northern Pass project.  Eventually it is also likely to weigh in on at least one wind farm and the Kinder Morgan pipeline.  That puts a spotlight on the committee-- made up of seven state officials and two members of the public.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

The Department of Environmental Services says Eversource Energy’s application to build the Northern Pass high voltage transmission power line is missing some pieces.

In a letter to the state’s energy siting committee, the DES writes the Northern Pass doesn’t have the signatures of landowners along the route’s right of way, which it contends are required for three kinds of environmental permits.

 The Department of Energy on Thursday released a supplemental environmental impact statement on Northern Pass’ plan to bury an additional 52 miles of its 192-mile route. The federal agency also said it would hold three public hearings on the 36-page document next month.

Eversource New Hampshire / http://bit.ly/201NMGe

If printed on 8 x 11 paper, and laid end to end, a single copy of the Northern Pass’ application to the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, would stretch nearly 4 miles. With 51 appendices spread across 35 volumes, each application takes up more than 20,000 pages.

When they were laying out the boxes of applications that needed to be delivered “it looked like we were moving,” says Lauren Collins, Northern Pass spokeswoman. 

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

The Northern Pass has submitted its application to state officials.

The proposed 192-mile power line that would connect New England to Canadian hydro-power has been mired in controversy since it was announced in 2010. But with the filing of Monday's application, New Hampshire's Site Evaluation Committee now has until December of 2016 to approve or reject the project.

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.

Eversource

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. 

Pages