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
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.

North Country
5:07 pm
Tue April 3, 2012

Northern Pass May Face Right of Way Legal Battle

Kris Pastoriza of Easton
Photo: Chris Jensen

Much of the battle over the Northern Pass hydro-electric project has focused on cutting a new route through the forests of the North Country.

Northern Pass intends to use 140 miles of existing right of way for much of the remainder of the project.

That may not be as easy as it sounds.

NHPR's Chris Jensen reports.

 

It takes maybe five minutes – including crossing a large brook on a narrow board – for Kris Pastoriza to reach the right-of-way that cuts through her wooded land in Easton.

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StateImpact
3:47 pm
Mon April 2, 2012

What A Canadian Newspaper Reports About Hydro-Quebec (And Northern Pass)

Looking at day-to-day coverage of Northern Pass, it tends to (unsurprisingly) focus on the New Hampshire perspective.  Will the project provide a much-needed boost to the North Country economy, or just create a spot of temp work?  What will the project do to land values?  Who’s selling their land, who’s holding fa

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North Country
10:29 am
Wed March 14, 2012

Two Of Three North Country Towns Okay Ordinances To Fight Corporate Power - and Northern Pass

A sign in Lancaster urged passage of the rights-based ordinance but it was rejected 233 to 65.
Chris Jensen for NHPR

Two of three North Country towns yesterday approved an ordinance designed to fight the Northern Pass project by trying to strip corporations of their power.

Lancaster, Sugar Hill and Easton all had the same idea: An ordinance that would assert a town’s rights over those of corporations.

The idea is to prevent large corporations – such as those behind the Northern Pass project – from using the legal muscle given them by U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

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Morning Edition
7:27 am
Wed February 15, 2012

Hiking for the Cause

Larissa Dannis on Mt Adams
Larissa Dannis

Opposition to the Northern Pass Project has inspired lawn signs, bumper stickers and even legislation.   Avid hiker Larisa Dannis has taken her protest of the proposed 180 mile transmission line through New Hampshire’s North Country to the top. 

North Country
5:10 pm
Thu February 9, 2012

Northern Pass Foes Eye New Tactic: Attacking Corporate Power

Lawyer Thomas Linzey says rights-based ordinances are one way to fight the power of corporations.
Chris Jensen for NHPR

Town meetings begin next month.

One issue some towns are looking at is a radical new tactic ultimately designed to challenge the legal power of corporations.

Opponents of the Northern Pass hydroelectric project are at the forefront of the move.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

 

Northern Pass opponents have won what they see they see as a victory in their fight against the huge hydro-electric project.

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North Country
12:15 pm
Tue January 31, 2012

Lynch On Northern Pass

Chris Jensen for NHPR

The controversial Northern Pass hydro-electric project “cannot happen without local support” and “should not happen with eminent domain,” Gov. Lynch’s said today in his State of the State address.

Here is the paragraph from his speech:

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North Country
3:33 pm
Mon January 30, 2012

StateImpact NH: A Closer Look at Who Does and Doesn't Like Northern Pass and Eminent Domain

StateImpact’s Amanda Loder has an interesting analysis – with some help from the Concord Monitor – at how opposition to eminent domain breaks out demographically and by political persuasion.

Here’s her report.

StateImpact NH is a cooperative project between NHPR and NPR.

 

Business and Economy
3:13 pm
Fri January 27, 2012

Breaking Down Who Does–And Doesn’t–Support Eminent Domain For Northern Pass

While a majority of poll respondents opposed Northern Pass, we noticed some interesting variations in the data
Chris Jensen NHPR

 

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