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.
Much of the opposition centers on the northernmost part of Northern Pass's proposed route (view and download maps here). While much of the line would follow existing transmission lines, the upper 40 miles would 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.
Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) is sponsoring SB 245, a 2014 bill that would require 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.
Rep. William Baber (D-Dover) is sponsoring HB 1224, a 2014 bill which "requires the public utilities commission to establish best practices assessment scoring for energy transmission projects."
Rep. David Murotake (R-Nashu) is sponsoring HB 1456, a 2014 bill which requires the Site Evaluation Committee to consider municipal and regional concerns, and adverse effects before issuing a certificate for an energy facility.
Ten pieces of legislation filed in the 2013 Legislature had a potential impact on projects such as the Northern Pass:
HB 166 requires 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 requires 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 569 requires that future transmission lines be placed within the state’s transportation corridors “to the extent possible.” HB 569 has been retained in committee.
HB 586 places a moratorium on new energy projects for one year. The House killed HB 586 in January 2014.
HB 580 places 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 calls 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 requires 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 increases 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 creates a state energy plan for evaluating future energy projects. SB 191 was signed by the Governor in the summer of 2013.
HB 306 seeks to create a commission to develop an energy strategy for the state. HB 306 was signed by the Governor in the summer of 2013.