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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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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North Country
12:57 pm
Sat October 6, 2012

Northern Pass Clarifies, Says It Has 99 Percent Of New Coos Route

A Northern Pass spokesman said Saturday that the project has 99 percent of the land it needs for the new route through Coos, clarifying remarks made Friday by a company executive.

During a conference call with analysts Friday Lee Olivier, an official with Northeast Utilities, said:

“I am pleased to say that we have about 99 percent of that 140-mile right-of-way right now either acquired or we have under agreement. The last essentially one percent we are working through the final details.”

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North Country
2:26 pm
Fri October 5, 2012

Northern Pass: Claims Progress On Route

Through much of the state Northern Pass plans to use existing rights-of-way - such as this tract through Easton - adding the higher, high-voltage towers. Chris Jensen for NHPR

Despite opposition, the Northern Pass project is doing well, according to company officials.

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North Country
5:10 pm
Wed September 26, 2012

AMC Says Northern Pass Would Have "Visual Impact" On 95,000 Acres

Chris Jensen for NHPR

A new study by the Appalachian Mountain Club says the towers for the Northern Pass hydro-electric project would “visually impact” about 95,000 acres in the state.

That includes about 3,000 acres in the White Mountain National Forest and 9,000 acres around Concord, the report says.

In all 23 towns from Whitefield south to Deerfield would be affected by the towers, the study said.

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North Country
2:59 pm
Mon September 17, 2012

Coos Commissioner Judd Loses Recount

Bing Judd, left, lost his county commissioner's seat to Rick Samson. Photos by Chris Jensen

During last week’s primary Coos County Commissioner Bing Judd lost his bid for re-election by five votes.

Today (Monday) there was a recount in Concord.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen has the results.

Bing Judd, who has been a Coos County Commissioner since 1997, has lost that position.

In a recount today in Concord Judd lost by seven votes.

599 to 592.

Originally Judd lost by five votes, prompting him to ask for the recount.

Judd is from Pittsburg – where he lost to Samson.

Samson from Stewartstown.

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North Country
5:00 pm
Fri September 7, 2012

An Unusual Challenge In The North Country

Incumbent Coos County Commissioner Bing Judd, left, faces Rick Samson.
Chris Jensen for NHPR

An unusual and important race in the North County will be decided on Tuesday.

It’s the political future of Bing Judd, a longtime Coos County Commissioner and one of the best-known figures in the region.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

For the first time in more than a decade Coos County Commissioner Burnham “Bing” Judd is being challenged for the commissioner’s spot he’s held since being appointed by a court in 1997.

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North Country
6:00 am
Wed September 5, 2012

Northern Pass And The Governor's Race: Who Stands Where

Opponents of the hydro-electric project say they want to know where the gubernatorial candidates stand.
Chris Jensen for NHPR

Among the many issues facing gubernatorial candidates this year is the Northern Pass project.

During the last race for governor two years ago, the Northern Pass project made only a brief appearance.

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North Country
6:20 pm
Sat September 1, 2012

A Holiday Weekend Includes Protests Against Northern Pass

Chris Jensen for NHPR

In between the picnics and end-of-summer festivities a series of protests against the Northern Pass hydro-electric project were held throughout the state  during the holiday.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports…

Easton was the site of one of a dozen or so protests from Manchester to Colebrook on Saturday.

Just under 100 people gathered on Gingerbread Lane along an existing right-of-way where the Northern Pass towers would cut through the tiny North Country town before heading south to cross the White Mountain National Forest.

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North Country
2:34 pm
Mon August 20, 2012

Forest Society Says It Has Deal To Block Northern Pass - But Wants To Raise $2.5 Million

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests says it has reached deals with several land owners in Coos it believes will block the Northern Pass hydro-electric project.

But Northern Pass says it plans to keep working on the $1.1 billion dollar project.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

The Forest Society says it has tentative conservation easements with land owners in Coos that would keep the controversial hydro-electric project from finding a crucial route south from Canada.

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