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.

New Hampshire’s congressional delegation is asking the U.S. Department of Energy whether the federal agency’s evaluation of the Northern Pass Transmission project can proceed if Northern Pass doesn’t have permission to use some segments of its new route.

For the project to move ahead the D.O.E. must give a Presidential Permit allowing the hydro-electric power to be brought across the border from Canada.

The Federal Register Monday is publishing the official notice that a changed, proposed route for the Northern Pass Transmission project has been filed with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Northern Pass announced the route late in June, with the only substantial change being in Northern Coos Country.

Chris Jensen / 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.

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.

Northern Pass Holds First Town Meeting On New Route

Aug 6, 2013
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.

Northern Pass Predicts Approval In Two Years

Jul 30, 2013

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.

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.

PSNH

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

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.

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.

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

Jun 27, 2013

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.

Hassan Signs Bill To Study Site Evaluation Committee

Jun 26, 2013

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

Northern Pass Says It Is Still Seeking Consensus

May 3, 2013

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.

Northeast Utilities, the parent company of the Northern Pass project, did not announce a new route during a conference call with analysts Thursday morning. 

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

Late last year Northern Pass officials said they finally had a new route through the North Country.

But they said they weren’t ready to disclose it.

Then, at the end of March officials basically said the same thing.

Last month Northern Pass opponents complained that U.S. Department of Energy contractors working on the Northern Pass project were trespassing on their land to carry out environmental studies.

That prompted Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte to ask DOE about it.

Now DOE has responded but things are still unclear.

The Department of Energy has chosen Southeastern Archaeological Research Inc. to review the impact of the Northern Pass hydro-electric project on the state’s historical sites, a DOE official says.

The firm has 70 full-time employees “who represent the complete range of disciplines necessary to conduct cultural resource projects,” according to the company’s website.

On a spring day Nigel Manley, the manager of The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, stands on a little knoll and admires the view.

“The Presidential Range. Today snow-covered and absolutely beautiful,” he says.

But this scene could become a new front in the battle opponents of Northern Pass are waging.

Chris Hunkeler / Flickr Creative Commons

Officials with the controversial Northern Pass project – a proposed 180 mile transmission line from the Canadian border to Deerfield – have missed another deadline.

A post on the project’s website states “although we have identified a new route which meets our project requirements, we believe it is in the best of interest of landowners, communities, and all stakeholders for us to continue to build on the details of this proposal and to take the time now to make some additional refinements before we begin the formal public review processes.”

Some North Country landowners are surprised that Department of Energy contractors are gathering environmental information on the Northern Pass project even though the route isn’t complete.

But Patrick Parenteau, a lawyer professor and expert in environmental law at the Vermont Law School, is not surprised.

After some North Country residents complained that U.S. Department of Energy contractors working on the Northern Pass project are trespassing on their land, Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte have sent a letter to the federal Department of Energy looking into it.

  The city of Franklin will hire a lobbyist this legislative session to follow the Northern Pass project.

The town stands to gain about $4.2 million dollars annually in property taxes, if the Northern Pass project goes through.  The taxes would be paid by PSNH on a converter station, which will be built in Franklin.

Elizabeth Dragon, the city manager of Franklin, says the city is looking for someone to follow relevant legislation and alert Franklin officials when necessary, “so that if there is a bill that requires us to travel to Concord to testify, we can do that.”

For much of the year officials at Northeast Utilities have been saying they would have the new route for Northern Pass submitted to the US Department of Energy by the end of the year.

But the New Year is here and while nothing has been posted with the DOE Northern Pass says it has a new route.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

In a conference call with analysts early in October Northeast Utilities official Lee Olivier said the company was “still on track” to file a new route with the Department of Energy by the end of the year.

Michael Kappel via Flickr CC

Proposed energy projects are causing a stir among New Hampshire lawmakers. Lawmakers will consider a raft of bills that would change how the state considers and approves such installations.

Senator Kelly Ayotte says he North Country should have a major voice in what happens with the Northern Pass hydro-electric project.

Ayotte spoke about the project while in Pittsburg in the North Country on Friday for a town meeting.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen was there.

Pretty much the first issue raised with Sen. Kelly Ayotte was the Northern Pass project which – if approved – would probably cross the border near here.

“It seems to me you all should have the voice in this.”

A U.S. Department of Energy official has told Senator Jeanne Shaheen that the federal agency did nothing wrong in approving several contractors to work on the Northern Pass project, dismissing allegations to the contrary from the Conservation Law Foundation.

Shaheen wrote the DOE in mid-October saying she was concerned about allegations made by the foundation.

The CLF said it used the Freedom-of-Information Act to obtain a series of emails between the federal agency and a lawyer for Northern Pass.

Hassan Picks "North Country Priorities" Team

Dec 7, 2012
Paul Filippov for NHPR

Saying the North Country communities “possess unique strengths and face unique challenges” Governor-elect Maggie Hassan has appointed a North Country Priorities team.

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