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
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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North Country
7:35 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

More Groups Demand DOE Remove Consultants They Claim Were Selected By Northern Pass

Nine organizations have joined the Conservation Law Foundation in asking that the U.S. Department of Energy fire the firms selected to conduct an environmental impact statement on the Northern Pass project because of a conflict-of-interest.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Earlier this month the Conservation Law Foundation released emails it forced the  Department of Energy to hand over under the Freedom of Information Act.

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North Country
4:01 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

Head of Sierra Club Canada Says Hydro-Quebec Power Isn't Green

Sierra Club Canada exec John Bennett attracted a multi-generational audience of about 100. Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR

The head of Sierra Club Canada says Hydro-Quebec power can’t be considered green. He was in Plymouth Tuesday night. NHPR’s Chris Jensen was there and has this report.

John Bennett is the executive director of Sierra Club Canada. He’s been watching and fighting big hydro-electric dam projects in Canada for decades.

And he told about 100 people at Plymouth State University – including opponents of the Northern Pass project – that the electricity Hydro-Quebec produces by flooding huge areas is not friendly to the environment.

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North Country
3:49 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

A New Tactic For Northern Pass Opponents: Boycott Montreal

John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club Canada. Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR

A prominent Canadian environmentalist says opposition to the Northern Pass project has not generated widespread coverage in Canada. The head of the Sierra Club Canada spoke at Plymouth State University Tuesday night.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

John Bennett, the executive director of the Sierra Club Canada, disappointed a group of about 100 Northern Pass opponents when he told them their efforts have received little media attention in Canada.

“It may be showing up in some of the Quebec press but it is not showing up in the national press in Canada.”

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North Country
5:29 pm
Thu October 11, 2012

DOE Denies Impropriety In Picking Firms Recommended by Northern Pass

The U.S. Department of Energy did nothing wrong in hiring three consultants recommended by Northern Pass, said a spokeswoman for the agency.

Wednesday the Conservation Law Foundation said documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showed a lawyer for Northern Pass recommended the firms to conduct a crucial environmental impact statement.

And the agency wrongly hired them.

The environmental impact statement is a pivotal part of the agency’s consideration of whether to grant Northern Pass a Presidential Permit.

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North Country
3:13 pm
Wed October 10, 2012

Northern Pass Helped Pick Key Consultant for DOE, Conservation Law Foundation Asserts

The Conservation Law Foundation says the U.S. Department of Energy made a serious mistake by again allowing Northern Pass to help pick the consultants responsible for the crucial environmental impact statement.

“The concern is that the integrity of the federal review is at great risk,” Christophe Courchesne, a lawyer at the foundation, said Wednesday.

The DOE did not respond to the issue raised by the foundation.

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