Should utilities be allowed to build a Northern Pass?
By: LFDA Editor
Northern Pass is a proposed 180-mile transmission line which would bring electricity from Hydro-Quebec, a provincial government-owned utility which generates most of its power from hydroelectric dams, from the NH-Quebec border to a substation in Deerfield, where it would connect to the existing power grid.
Developers tout the project as providing "clean," renewable electricity, but landowners in the area and conservationists object to the project's possible deleterious impact on property values and the environment.
The project is a partnership between Hydro-Quebec, Northeast Utilities, and NSTAR. The latter two companies are privately-owned utilities which provide electricity and natural gas to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut, as well as New Hampshire through the Northeast Utilities subsidiary Public Service of New Hampshire.
Proponents say that the project would benefit the state and the region on several levels. The "clean" electricity, they say, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions that would otherwise result from coal-generated electricity. The influx of new power would lower electricity prices overall. The power would not be subject to the shortages and price spikes of the fossil fuel market. The partnership also says the project would benefit the state with 1,200 jobs per year over the three-year construction phase, and add new property taxes to state and local budgets.
But opponents say that these benefits are far outweighed by the negatives.
While much of the line would follow existing transmission lines, the Northern Pass towers would be taller than many existing power lines. The upper 40 miles would also require new rights of way to be cut through forests and other undeveloped land, much of it privately owned. Many of the landowners and nearby residents say that building the line would destroy the region's natural beauty, and would negatively impact both the quality of life and the economic benefits derived from tourism and agriculture. In summer 2013 Northern Pass officials announced they were changing the route to bury eight miles of transmission lines underground. However, many Northern Pass opponents argue that all of the lines should be buried.
At one point residents also feared that the Northern Pass Project would use eminent domain to seize private land. That fear was allayed when the 2012 legislature passed a bill preventing the Northern Pass from using eminent domain, at least in the near future. To learn more, visit our Eminent Domain page.
Currently, the Northern Pass project is facing opposition at all levels of government, from the grassroots on up to U.S. Sens. Ayotte and Shaheen, both of whom have voiced concerns about how the project is being moved forward.
Rep. Laurence Rappaport is the primary sponsor of HB 431, a 2015 bill that changes the criteria for evaluating proposed transmission lines to favor buried lines.
Rep. Suzanne Smith is the primary sponsor of HB 626, a 2015 bill that gives the Site Evaluation Committee the power to designate energy infrastructure corridors, "for the underground collocation of major energy transmission lines."
Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) sponsored SB 245, which requires applicants to the Site Evaluation Committee "to present alternatives, including but not limited to the burial of energy transmission facilities in publicly-owned transportation rights of way." The bill also allows the Site Evaluation Committee to charge an application fee. The Senate and House amended the passed the measure and it was signed by Gov. Hassan.
Rep. Laurence Rappaport (R-Colebrok) sponsored HB 569, a carryover from the 2013 session that requires the Site Evaluation Committee to give preferential treatment to transmission line plans that bury the lines within the state’s transportation corridors. HB 569 passed the House and went to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee where it was laid on the table and effectively killed.
Rep. David Murotake (R-Nashu) sponsored HB 1456, a 2014 bill which would have required the Site Evaluation Committee to consider municipal and regional concerns, and adverse effects before issuing a certificate for an energy facility. The House killed the bill in March.
Nine pieces of legislation filed in the 2013 Legislature had a potential impact on projects such as the Northern Pass:
HB 166 required that transmission lines for future energy projects be buried if they are not needed for the “public good.” The bill does not define public good. The House killed HB 166 in January 2014.
HB 568 required the transmission lines of all “elective” projects be buried. Northern Pass is considered an elective project. The House killed HB 568 in January 2014.
HB 586 placed a moratorium on new energy projects for one year. The House killed HB 586 in January 2014.
HB 580 placed a moratorium on all wind and energy projects until the state develops a “comprehensive energy plan.” The House killed HB 580 in January 2014.
HB 449 called for an economic impact analysis for future energy projects to determine what they will mean for jobs and incomes in the local communities. The bill would also require the state to consider the input of local communities before approving an energy project. The House killed HB 449 in January 2014.
HB 484 required an energy project to receive public approval anywhere the project’s structures are visible. Any town that could see a structure would register its approval or disapproval by a town vote. The House killed HB 484 in January 2014.
SB 99 increased the public’s representation in hearings before the state board that issues permits for energy projects. It also sets additional standards for these projects, including an analysis of how views and property values would be affected by a project. SB 99 passed the Senate in March, was approved by the House on June 5 and signed by the governor June 27.
SB 191 created a state energy plan for evaluating future energy projects. SB 191 was signed by the governor in the summer of 2013.
HB 306 sought to create a commission to develop an energy strategy for the state. HB 306 was signed by the governor in the summer of 2013.