WebHeader_Grove.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
LIMITED TIME OFFER: Give today and we'll send you the popular purple finch mug plus another thank you gift.
What Is Northern Pass? Northern Pass is a proposal to run 192 miles of new power lines from Canada, through northern New Hampshire, south to Concord, and then eastward to Deerfield. The project is a collaboration between Eversource (previously known as Public Service of New Hampshire) and Hydro-Quebec, which is owned by the provincial government of Quebec. The utilities say the $1.6 billion Northern Pass project would transport 1,090 megawatts of electricity from Quebec – which derives more than 90 percent of its power from hydroelectric dams – to the New England power grid.The ControversyNorthern Pass has proved an incredibly controversial issue in New Hampshire, especially in the North CountryThe project has generated considerable controversy from the beginning. Despite its statewide impacts, many of the projects most dedicated opponents come from the sparsely-populated and heavily forested North Country.Eversource says the new lines would bring jobs and tax revenue to this struggling part of the state. But opponents of the project say it would mean only temporary jobs for residents when it's under construction. They also say it will deface New Hampshire's forestland, hurting tourism and lowering property values. Depending on the location, developers say the project's towers will range from 85 to 135 feet tall.Polls have consistently found the public remains sharply divided on this issue.Some critics have pushed for the entire project to be buried. Politicians ranging from Sen. Maggie Hassan to former Sen. Kelly Ayotte to 2012 GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich have floated this move as having the potential to soften opposition. Eversource maintains this would be too expensive, and would effectively make the project impossible to pursue. 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 routesNorthern Pass has considered a number of routes for the project, but has publicly announced three. The first, unveiled in 2011, faced major backlash from North Country residents and environmental groups. Over the next couple of years, the project and its primary opponent the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests played a prolonged chess match over parcels of North Country land. Northern Pass ultimately spent more than $40 million purchasing acres of undeveloped land in the North Country. Meanwhile, the Forest 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, outlawing the practice except in cases where a new transmission line was needed to maintain the reliability of the electric system.By the spring of 2013, Northern Pass opponents believed the project was essentially "cornered" into trying to route the power line through a large conservation easement, called the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters. The governor at that time, Democrat Maggie Hassan, said she opposed such a move on the part of Northern Pass.Second Time Around: Northern Pass Announces Alternative RouteIn 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 and Stewartstown. 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 raised the price tag on the project from $1.2 billion as initially proposed to about $1.4 billion. While opponents said this move was progress, many – including the Forest Society – maintained that Northern Pass should be able to bury all 180 miles of power lines.Final Route: Burial through the White Mountains0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8a620000 After years of continued opposition, Northern Pass made its final concession to critics. It downsized the powerline from an initial proposal of 1,200 megawatts to 1,090 to take advantage of a new technology, known as HVDC lite. This move made it more economical to bury portions of the line, and Eversource said it was now willing to bury 52 additional miles of the project. The new route would be alongside state roadways as the project passed through the White Mountain National Forest.While the governor called the change “an important improvement,” she also said “further improvements” to the project should be made. The partial burial did not placate the project’s fiercest opponents, but some speculated that it would help the project clear one significant hurdle: whether it would get approval to use public lands from the top official at the White Mountain National Forest. The move pushed the estimated price tag up again, to $1.6 billion, now for a project that would deliver less power.With its new route in hand, project officials filed to build the project in October of 2015.Before the Site Evaluation CommitteeThe application to state officials was likely the longest and most complicated in the state’s history, and 161 individuals, interest groups, and municipalities asked to be allowed to participate in the process to evaluate the merits of the project.Given the size and complexity of the project, many of the interveners pushed for a longer review than the standard one year that state law dictates. In May of 2016, those groups got their wish, and the decision was pushed back 9 months. The final deadline was set for September of 2017. However, once the proceeding got under way, it was clear that even this delay would not allow time to hear from all of the witnesses called by the various interveners. Early in September of 2017 it was delayed again, with a final decision set for February 2018.DeniedOn February 1st, 2018, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee voted unanimously to deny the permit for Northern Pass, a decision that triggered an appeals process that was taken up by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in late 2018.In May of 2019, the court heard orgal arguments on the appeal.On July 19, 2019, the court issued its ruling. In a unanimous decision, the SEC's rejection of the project was upheld, likely marking the end of Northern Pass as it was proposed.

Is Big Hydro Really Green?

By JOHN DILLON

 

While some critics are lining up to oppose the Northern Pass Project in New Hampshire, others are following those wires to their source.

And that source is a series of dams in Quebec Canada run by Hydro-Quebec.

As Northeast states increasingly look to satisfy their demand for low cost renewable energy, opponents are arguing that big hydro is not as green as it appears.

As part of a collaboration of Northeast stations John Dillon of Vermont Public Radio reports:

John Harrigan is a retired newspaper publisher who now writes columns for several New Hampshire papers.

He’s driving his pick up down a quiet road in Colebrook, New Hampshire. Snow-covered trees drape low, forming a kind of white tunnel.

He pulls over and points north to Canada.

 “See that square field way up there? On the far ridge? As I understand it, the power line would come just to the left of that.”

 Harrigan is part of a coalition of environmentalists, local businesses and outdoors enthusiasts that’s fighting a proposed 12-hundred megawatt power line designed to carry electricity from Quebec to Northeast states.

 “What’s being threatened is the only thing we really have left, which is tourism. All for the convenience of people far to the south. And we’re going to wind up with this huge scar right down through the narrowest and most fragile part of New Hampshire.”

But utilities in many Northeast states face mandates to include a certain percentage of renewable energy in their portfolios. And they see Hydro-Quebec as helping fill that need. Kenneth Bowes is with Connecticut Light and Power, which is owned by Northeast Utilities.

“We think it is essential for meeting the Renewable Portfolio standards for New England and we think it is a direct benefit to customers for cost and also a huge impact on carbon emissions and the environment.”

But in northern Quebec, Roger Orr has a different view. Orr’s home, about 500 miles north of Montreal, is a sparsely populated land of big rivers and spruce forests. The water flows west to James Bay. And Hydro-Quebec has become the continent’s largest producer of electricity by taming the rivers with huge dams. Orr, a member of the Cree nation, lives near one of them on the Rupert River.

"After they dammed it, after they closed the gates, the water went down dramatically. It was from a pristine river down to a river that hardly even trickled any more."

Orr doesn’t think Hydro-Quebec electricity should be labeled as renewable when it’s sold in the United States.

"If I was to go and build a dam in New York State, oh man, they would see first hand what it is, that they're saying it's renewable and green energy? No, no.. the environment is suffering."

In the world of utility regulation, the word “renewable” has a legal meaning. If a project is deemed renewable, it helps utilities meet those requirements that a certain percentage of their portfolios come from greener sources, such as wind or solar.

Vermont has already designated electricity from Hydro-Quebec as renewable. The government-owned utility hopes other Northeast states follow suit. Here’s Quebec premier Jean Charest at a news conference last summer announcing a new power deal with Vermont.

 "The state of Vermont is the first state in North America to not discriminate against large-scale hydro. And that will help us inspire other legislatures and hopefully the federal government of the Untied States to do the same."

But environmental groups are concerned imports from Hydro-Quebec could stifle development of renewable energy closer to home, such as wind and solar.

The utilities argue hydro from Canada will significantly reduce the region’s greenhouse gas emissions. Martin Murray of Northeast Utilities is a spokesman for the Quebec-New Hampshire power line project.

“We have some pretty lofty goals in terms of lowering future emissions of carbon.”

And the federal government has also announced it will regulate greenhouse gas pollution. Concerns over climate change may have the upper hand in the environmental debate over Hydro-Quebec.