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
5:36 pm
Tue March 12, 2013

Shaheen, Ayotte Query Feds On Northern Pass Trespassing Question

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.

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Politics
5:03 pm
Wed January 9, 2013

With $4.2 Million Wrapped Up In Northern Pass, City Of Franklin To Hire Lobbyist This Session

  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.”

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North Country
4:55 pm
Mon December 31, 2012

Northern Pass Misses One Self-Imposed Deadline, But Announces A New Route

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.

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NH News
5:30 pm
Thu December 27, 2012

Lawmakers Want To Reshape Energy Permitting In N.H.

The controversial Northern Pass project is one of the inspirations of a set of bills up for consideration this year that would reshape how the state considers and approves energy projects.

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.

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North Country
9:05 am
Sat December 15, 2012

Ayotte: North Country Should Have "The Voice" In Northern Pass

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.”

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North Country
2:42 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

DOE To Shaheen: No Problem With Northern Pass Contractor Selection

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.

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North Country
4:26 pm
Fri December 7, 2012

Hassan Picks "North Country Priorities" Team

Governor-elect Maggie Hassan says she wants the North Country Priorities task force to gather information so the needs of that area
Credit 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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North Country
7:53 am
Tue December 4, 2012

Nashua Chamber Supports Northern Pass

The Northern Pass hydro-electric project has a new supporter: The Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber endorsed the project because it believes it will help lower energy bills for businesses, said the chamber’s president and CEO, J. Christopher Williams.

“We have a lot of our large and mid-size companies in southern New Hampshire who are very big consumers of electricity and we are watching our energy costs go up in the future and we are trying to find ways to alleviate that,” he said.

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North Country
6:30 am
Thu November 22, 2012

Bill Would Require New Utility Lines Along State Rights-of-Way

Rep. Larry Rappaport of Colebrook. Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR

A North Country legislator is proposing a law that would require new electric utility lines to be located along existing highways.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

If Rep. Larry Rappaport’s bill become law, utility companies would be required – as much as possible - to put new electric transmission lines alongside state rights-of-way such as highways.

Rappaport, of Colebrook, contends that would have two benefits.

“The roads are already there."

 It would also help the state with its budget problems.

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North Country
11:04 am
Wed November 21, 2012

Northern Pass Leases Coos Land Linked To Yale

The Northern Pass Transmission project has taken a big step forward in its search for a route through the North Country – with some help from Yale University.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Northern Pass has signed a deal allowing it to put transmission lines along 20 miles through eastern Coos County.

In a statement Public Service of New Hampshire president Gary Long described the arrangement as “a huge step for the project.”

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North Country
4:59 pm
Tue November 20, 2012

Exec's Statements On Northern Pass Challenged

Last week at a conference in Arizona a top official at Northeast Utilities provided an update on the Northern Pass Transmission project.

But some of his statements are being refuted.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

The industry conference was for electric utility companies, analysts and those interested in the business.

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North Country
9:35 am
Fri November 16, 2012

Proposed Law Would Require Northern Pass To Bury Lines

A North Country representative is proposing legislation that would require the Northern Pass Transmission lines to be buried.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Rep. Larry Rappaport of Colebrook is introducing legislation he says could end the fight over the transmission towers proposed by Northern Pass.

Rappaport says his bill would require any utility company undertaking an “elective” project to bury the transmission lines.

“Elective” means the project isn’t needed to improve the overall reliability of the power grid.

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North Country
11:14 pm
Wed November 14, 2012

Commission Studying Burying Power Lines Urged To Continue

Speakers at The Flying Monkey in Plymouth spoke before the so-called 361 Commission which the state established to consider how to handle new utility projects and whether it is feasible to bury lines rather than use towers. Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR

About 200 people gathered Wednesday night in Plymouth for public hearing held by a state commission studying whether high-power electric lines such as those proposed by Northern Pass should be buried.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

The commission’s goals include investigating whether it is feasible to bury utility lines on existing state rights-of-way, such as highways.

And the message to the commission from many of those who spoke was that the commission needs to keep working to develop a well-reasoned policy for new utility projects.

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North Country
2:48 pm
Mon November 5, 2012

Real Estate Appraiser Who Angered Northern Pass Settles

James Walker
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

A complaint by Northern Pass against James Walker, a real estate appraiser from the North Country, has been settled.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

James Walker, of Franconia, has agreed to pay a fine to settle a complaint Northern Pass filed with the state’s Real Estate Appraiser Board.  

Northern Pass complained after Walker told a Dalton couple that the project’s electrical towers would reduce the value of their 135 acres by 63 percent.

Northern Pass challenged Walker’s methods, saying the project may have been unfairly harmed.

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North Country
4:28 pm
Tue October 30, 2012

Forest Society Misses Fundraising Deadline In Effort To Block Northern Pass

In August the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said it hoped to raise $2.5 million by October 31st to help it block the Northern Pass project in the North Country.

But it won’t make that fundraising deadline.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

With donations totaling almost $869,000  the Forest Society has fallen about $1.6 million short of its goal.

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