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.

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Environment
5:23 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

Energy Developers Critical, Environmentalists Hopeful On SEC Reform

Credit Flikr Creative Commons / Claudio Schwarz

New Hampshire’s energy community turned out at a Senate hearing on Wednesday to react to a senate bill proposing changes to the Site Evaluation Committee, which approves power plants. The proposed changes include shrinking the SEC to five members, including two public representatives, hiring dedicated support staff, and requiring projects have a net public benefit.

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North Country
7:17 pm
Wed February 5, 2014

DOE Says It Will Reveal Alternate Northern Pass Routes

 Under pressure from New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, the U.S. Department of Energy says it will disclose which alternatives to the route favored by Northern Pass it plans to study. That is something opponents of the controversial project have been seeking.

Before the Northern Pass project can go forward it must be approved by the DOE. And, the core of that approval is an environmental impact statement. It will focus on the 187-mile route Northern Pass wants to use.

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NH News
10:02 am
Tue February 4, 2014

DOE Mum On Alternate Routes For Northern Pass

Credit Michael Kappel / Flickr CC

 

Despite a request by New Hampshire's congressional delegation and the project backer, the U.S. Department of Energy says it can't answer questions about alternative routes for the contested Northern Pass transmission project.

The DOE is preparing an Environmental Impact Study on the proposed $1.4 billion project that would transmit 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Hydro-Quebec into New England.

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NH News
12:18 pm
Wed January 29, 2014

House Kills Proposed Moratorium On Wind Farms, Transmission Line Projects

Credit Chris Hunkeler / Flickr Creative Commons

The state’s House of Representatives has voted 194-148 to kill a bill that would have established a moratorium on wind farms and new transmission line projects, including Northern Pass.

This vote fell along party lines, with Democrats largely voting against blocking all projects, and Republicans, like Skip Reilly of Hill arguing that now is the time to wait -- for the state to complete its forthcoming energy plan.

"Remember we are elected by our constituents to serve them, not some power company."

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North Country
10:18 am
Thu January 23, 2014

How North Country Reps Voted On Burying Electric Transmission Lines

Opponents of the Northern Pass transmission project strongly favored House Bill 569. Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR

Only one representative from the North Country voted Wednesday against a bill that would encourage state regulators to give preference to electric transmission lines that are buried or located along public highways.

As NHPR’s Sam Evans-Brown reported the House voted 171 – 139 for HB 569.

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NH News
5:54 pm
Wed January 22, 2014

House Lawmakers OK Bill Encouraging Buried Powerlines

Credit NHPR Staff

Update: The House Ways and Means Committee Chair, Susan Almy, has declined to take up this bill, meaning it moves directly to the Senate

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has passed a bill that establishes a preference for burying power lines like the controversial Northern Pass Project.

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Northern Pass
10:18 am
Fri January 17, 2014

Special Series: The Northern Pass Debate & New England's Energy Future

The proposed route for Northern Pass
Credit Courtesy New Hampshire Magazine

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.

While a high-profile debate in the state, many New Hampshire residents are unsure of how Northern Pass compares to past energy projects, what both sides have at stake, and what the future of the region's energy supply could look like.

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NH News
5:30 am
Fri January 17, 2014

Beyond Northern Pass: Where New England Will Get Its Power Remains Uncertain

Credit peupleloup / Flickr CC

  Third in a three part series.

Whether or not the Northern Pass transmission line gets the state and federal permits it’s looking for, HydroQuebec is poised to send ever more of its hydro-power south. It’s increasingly clear that New England will need more power soon and with transmission lines are being proposed all around the Northeast, Canadian hydro is likely to play a role.

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NH News
5:30 am
Thu January 16, 2014

A Shifting Baseline: Would We 'Get Used' To Northern Pass?

Meagan Therriault and Geoff Pinard's driveway spills out almost directly beneath the Phase II power line.
Credit John Hession / NH Magazine

Second in a three part series

It’s possible that the Northern Pass, a 186-mile transmission line Public Service of New Hampshire proposed in 2010, might be built over the many objections of the project’s opponents. Its developers hope it can gain state and federal approval and construction can be completed by 2017.

If that does happen would people get used to it, or would it become a permanent scar on the state as opponents fear?

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NH News
5:30 am
Wed January 15, 2014

Power Push: Learning From N.H.'s First HVDC Power Line

The Phase II power line is operated by National Grid and stretches from Monroe New Hampshire to the Massachusetts border. It came into service in 1990.
Credit Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

First in a three part series, and a collaboration with New Hampshire Magazine.

While the Northern Pass is one of the most controversial energy proposals in recent New Hampshire history, it is not the first such project to come to the Granite State. Another power line, called Phase II, stretches from Monroe New Hampshire down to the Massachusetts border. Driving through Hopkinton today you can’t miss the three-tower-wide power line corridor that streaks through the town.

But they were a surprise to many residents 25 years ago, when they were installed.

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NH News
3:47 pm
Tue December 31, 2013

ISO-NE Approves Northern Pass Interconnectivity

The hydroelectric power line project known as the Northern Pass has passed a major regulatory hurdle Tuesday.


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North Country
6:00 am
Tue December 3, 2013

Evaluating The Site Evaluation Committee

Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley: This week the public has a chance to weigh in on the future of the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.  The SEC reviews major utility projects, including proposed wind farms and the Northern Pass project. 

The concerns of opponents of those projects prompted Governor Hassan to sign Senate Bill 99.  It calls for a review of how the SEC works with a report due at the end of December. 

This week’s listening sessions and workshops include one tonight in Manchester.

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North Country
11:21 am
Fri November 22, 2013

SEC Public Meetings: Should Citizens Have A Role In Approving Utility Projects?

A series of public meetings begin the first week in December to determine what changes, if any, should be made to how the state’s Site Evaluation Committee works, including whether the public should have a decision-making role in approving new utility projects.

The SEC reviews major utility projects, which will include Northern Pass.

Currently the SEC has fifteen members, all from state agencies.

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Environment
2:48 pm
Thu October 31, 2013

New Hydropower Transmission Line Proposed For Vermont

Credit New England Clean Power Link / www.necplink.com

A developer has proposed another transmission project that would link Canadian hydro-power to consumers in Southern New England. As proposed the project would be 150 miles through Vermont, and be entirely underground and underwater.

The transmission line is called the New England Clean Power Link. It would run from Southern Quebec, buried along the bottom of Lake Champlain before turning east for 50 miles to Ludlow, Vermont, where it would plug into the New England grid.

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North Country
5:43 pm
Wed October 23, 2013

Ayotte Says Northern Pass Should Pay To Have Lines Buried

Sen. Kelly Ayotte's town meeting at noon in Whitefield attracted about three dozen people. Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR

Despite a modified route for the Northern Pass Project Sen. Kelly Ayotte says she still has “serious reservations” about the plan and the lines along the entire route should be buried.

“I am still very concerned about the impact on the beauty on the North Country and many other areas of the state,” she told NHPR following a Town Hall meeting Wednesday in Whitefield.

Ayotte says it would be best to bury all the transmission lines, not just an eight-mile section in Northern Coos County.

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