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
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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North Country
11:37 am
Tue July 31, 2012

Northern Pass Says It Is Getting Closer To Final Route

Officials for the Northern Pass hydro-electric project say they plan to have their new route through Northern New Hampshire finished this fall.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Northern Pass is making progress buying land for its new route through northern Coos and still hopes to file that plan with the U.S. Department of Energy by the end of the year, says Leon Olivier, an official with Northeast Utilities, which is behind the Northern Pass project.

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North Country
5:25 pm
Thu July 5, 2012

Tom Wagner: Deciding Whether Northern Pass May Cross The White Mountain National Forest

Chris Jensen for NHPR

The decisions on whether the controversial Northern Pass hydro-electric project goes ahead will be made by state and federal agencies. But a single person will make a crucial decision.

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North Country
5:19 pm
Wed June 27, 2012

Department of Energy Says It Didn't Mean To Make All Northern Pass Commenters Anonymous

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy says the names of people who commented - for and against the Northern Pass project – were inadvertently removed from the agency web site.

Originally most of the 1,700 people who commented had their names and towns included.

But recently that information was removed, replaced with a note saying:

“The comment information presented below has had the personal information obfuscated for privacy as requested by the original author.”

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The Exchange
10:00 am
Sat June 16, 2012

What’s Next for Northern Pass?

Headlines have quieted down on the Hydro-power project called Northern Pass, but efforts to continue and thwart the project are ongoing.  A new study questions the need for Northern Pass’s  hydropower, given low natural gas prices. Meanwhile, there’s been activity  on land purchases in the North Country that could connect the dots for the project’s final route. We will look at that latest news around Northern Pass.

Guests

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North Country
5:20 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

Northern Pass Competitors: Project Needs Renewable Energy Funds

A group of power providers that would compete with the Northern Pass says the project can’t make money without some kind of renewable energy, government subsidy, an assertion  Northern Pass disputes.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

 

A group of New England power generators is worried Northern Pass will try to get federal or state subsidies by persuading government officials to declare its electricity is renewable.

Such hydro-electric power is not currently eligible for subsidies.

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North Country
2:05 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

MIT Professor: Natural Gas Prices Not Likely To Make Hydro-Quebec Reconsider Northern Pass

The extremely low prices for natural gas – which can be used to generate electricity - have some  opponents  of Northern Pass wondering whether Hydro-Quebec  might reconsider the project. But a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that’s unlikely.

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NH News
4:46 pm
Tue April 10, 2012

Utility Merger Could Impact Northern Pass

After 18 months of federal and state review, Northeast Utilities has completed a $5-billion purchase of Boston-based NStar. The deal makes PSNH’s parent company the largest utility in New England.

During a conference call, CEO Tom May said the acquisition would help his company pursue the Northern Pass project.

"The new NU will, because of the financial strength of the combined companies, actually have credit rating upgrades, which should make it a lot easier to finance this project," said May.

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