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.

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North Country
11:57 am
Thu August 8, 2013

Northern Pass Says State Could Overrule Forest Society Land Claims

Northern Pass wants to bury its transmission line along this section of Route 3 in Clarksville but the forest society says it owns the land on either side and beneath the road.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

In what appears to be a groundbreaking  tactic Northern Pass says it plans to ask the state’s Site Evaluation Committee to give it permission to bury its transmission lines on roadside property that the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest says it controls.

But there are serious doubts that the Site Evaluation Committee has that authority, leading to the prospect of a court fight and delay in the project.

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NH News
5:08 pm
Tue August 6, 2013

House Committee Takes Up Tabled Northern Pass Bills

A house subcommittee has again started work on three bills inspired by the Northern Pass Transmission project held in committee over the summer. The bills would require developers to bury transmission lines, place them along transportation corridors when feasible, or to not build them if regulators determine there is no public need.

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North Country
11:50 am
Tue August 6, 2013

Northern Pass Holds First Town Meeting On New Route

Chris Jensen for NHPR
Credit Chris Jensen / NHPR

Northern Pass officials held the first in a series of town meetings Monday night to explain – and convince residents to accept – their new route.

“The purpose is to share information, answer questions and get feedback,” said Northern Pass spokesman Michael Skelton.

The initial meeting was held in Millsfield, an unincorporated place, between Errol and Colebrook. It only has about two dozen residents.

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North Country
1:22 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

Northern Pass Predicts Approval In Two Years

A top executive with Northeast Utilities told analysts Tuesday that he expects to have final approval for the Northern Pass Project around the middle of 2015 and be importing hydro-electric energy from Canada two years later.

"Our plan has both the state and federal permitting processes complete by mid-2015. On that schedule we expect to bring the project into service around mid-2017," said Northeast Utilities chief operating officer Lee Olivier during a conference call with analysts.

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North Country
3:52 pm
Thu July 4, 2013

Worst Case, Northern Pass Still Might Ask To Cross Tiny Bit Of Conservation Area

Northern Pass has formally filed its new route with the Department of Energy and it raises the possibility the hydro-electric project might still need to cross a tiny section of the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Conservation area.

Late last month Northern Pass officials revealed a new northern route through Coos Country.  It calls for burying almost eight miles of line alongside roads, mostly in Stewartstown. But that will require the approval of the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.

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NH News
5:44 pm
Thu June 27, 2013

PSNH Announces New Northern Pass Route

Credit PSNH

Public Service of New Hampshire has announced a new route for its Northern Pass project that involves nearly eight miles of underground lines.

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North Country
5:31 pm
Thu June 27, 2013

Northern Pass' New Route Hangs On Eight Miles of Country Roads

Broadcast version

After a series of delays PSNH has announced a new route for its Northern Pass project. 

The route follows a more easterly path than the original 2010 route and it includes nearly eight miles of underground wires.  But this new route isn’t a done deal. State officials still have to approve a key element – putting those underground lines on public property.

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NH News
5:24 pm
Thu June 27, 2013

PSNH Announces New Route For Northern Pass

Map provided by PSNH.
Credit PSNH

  PSNH has announced a new route for their controversial hydroelectric project.

In the northern part of the state, the new route veers east from Pittsburg, Clarksville and Stewartstown to Dixville. Then, it drops south to Drummer in the middle of the state, before bending back west to Northumberland on existing rights of way.

PSNH president Gary Long says PSNH owns all of the property or easements necessary to connect power lines from Canada down to Deerfield.

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North Country
10:38 am
Thu June 27, 2013

After A New Route What's Next For Northern Pass?

After the announcement of Northern Pass’ new proposed route through Northern Coos - expected late this morning - the utility’s next steps will be to seek state and federal approval.

Having a new proposed route means Northern Pass can formally file it with the U.S. Department of Energy, which has to give its approval for a Presidential Permit. That permit allows the hydro-electric power to be imported from Canada.

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North Country
4:50 pm
Wed June 26, 2013

Hassan Signs Bill To Study Site Evaluation Committee

Gov. Maggie Hassan has signed Senate Bill 99, which calls for a study of the state’s important Site Evaluation Committee’s “organization, structure and process.”

The committee  reviews major utility projects, which would include Northern Pass Transmission. Without its approval the project to bring hydro-electric power from Canada could not move ahead.

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North Country
12:07 pm
Mon June 17, 2013

As Northern Pass Opponents Worry, No Hint From Hassan On Whether She'll Sign Senate Bill 99

Some Northern Pass opponents are hoping Governor Maggie Hassan will sign Senate Bill 99, which they think may complicate approval of the controversial hydro-electric project. The bill may reach Hassan's desk this week but she says she hasn’t decided what to do.

“I haven’t reviewed the bill yet in any kind of detail so I’ll do that and then make up my mind,” she told NHPR Saturday.

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North Country
2:53 pm
Fri May 17, 2013

For Northern Pass Crossing Conservation Land Would Mean A Long And Rocky Legal Road

In 2003 state and federal officials, a private land owner and conservation groups created a conservation easement to protect about 146,000 acres in northern Coos County from development.

It is called the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters and some opponents of Northern Pass fear the utility hopes to cross it to send hydro-electric power south from its partner – Hydro-Quebec.

But getting permission to do that would be a complicated procedure with so many hurdles it would be the longest of long shots, according to those familiar with such easements.

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North Country
5:34 pm
Wed May 8, 2013

Northern Pass Foes Worry A Huge Conservation Tract Is Being Eyed

For more than a year landowners and a conservation group have been trying to keep Northern Pass from finding a route through Northern Coos County.

But there’s one possibility that would give Northern Pass a big step forward: Crossing a huge conservation tract controlled by the state.

Such an effort could easily make the project even more controversial.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

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Environment
4:58 pm
Wed May 8, 2013

Hassan to Malloy: Hydro Doesn't Need Support

Credit Chris Hunkeler / Flickr Creative Commons

Governor Maggie Hassan has sent a letter to the governor of Connecticut, Democrat Dannel Malloy, asking him to reject changes to that state’s renewable energy laws, called the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The changes are seen as a boost to the controversial Northern Pass Transmission line.

The Governor Hassan’s letter says the Connecticut proposal that would allow hydro to be counted toward that state’s renewable energy goals quote, “undermines our common goal of fostering new and small-scale renewable resources here in New England.”

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North Country
6:00 am
Fri May 3, 2013

Northern Pass Says It Is Still Seeking Consensus

During a quarterly conference call Thursday officials at Northeast Utilities, the parent company of the Northern Pass project, said while they have a new route they still aren’t ready to say where it goes. 

And that the soonest the project could now get underway is 2017.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen listened in and has this report:

One reason the starting date of Northern Pass has slipped from 2015 to 2017 is opposition to the project.

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