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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.

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

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

 

Recently the Concord Monitor reported on a Granite State Poll commissioned by a key Northern Pass rival–the New England Power Generators Association.  The big news coming out of the study was 68 percent of the 500 respondents were against eminent domain for Northern Pass.

But what interested us even more than the overarching sentiment toward eminent domain was how opinions broke down along various demographic lines.

Right now, the study’s not posted on the University of New Hampshire Survey Center site where most Granite State Polls live.  But luckily for us, the Monitor went ahead and linked to a scanned copy of the report, which included several pages of demographic data.  So this week, we went ahead and crunched some numbers to try to give you a fuller picture of what Northern Pass eminent domain opposition–and support–looks like.

First of all, our bout of data entry made one thing abundantly clear:  There’s strong–and in some cases, overwhelming–opposition to eminent domain across the demographic groups surveyed.  Depending on the group, anywhere from 60 to 81 percent of respondents were against the project.

But that doesn’t mean we didn’t find some interesting variations.

Let’s start with politics.  As poll data made clear (and our charts show), neither party identification nor political ideology seems to be a significant factor when it comes to support or opposition.

 

But that doesn't mean there aren't variations in opinion based on other demographics.  Below are some numbers that stood out to us when we reviewed the polling data.

  • Sex: 24 percent of male respondents favored eminent domain for Northern Pass, compared to 14 percent of female respondents.
  • Age: The highest level of opposition to the project was in the 50-64 years bracket, at 72 percent.  The lowest levels of opposition were in the 18-34 bracket and the 65+ group, at 65 and 64 percent, respectively.  Interestingly enough, people in the high-opposition 50-64 and 65+ groups also had the highest proportion of eminent domain supporters, both at 21 percent. In other words, among these respondents, opinions are pretty well set.  The lowest level of Northern Pass support was among the 18-34 group, at 10 percent.  But the proportion of people who responded they didn't know was higher than all the other brackets, at 24 percent.  In other words, this age group appears to be more "in play" regarding the project.
  • Income: The highest rate of opposition was the $60,000 to $74,999 bracket, at 82 percent.  The highest rate of favor was in the $45,000 to $59,999 and $100,000+ brackets, each at 25 percent.
  • Time Spent In NH: People who've spent the least and the most time in the state have the highest levels of eminent domain opposition vis-a-vis Northern Pass.  Among people who've been here five years or less, opposition to eminent domain runs at 81 percent.  Meanwhile, 70 percent of those in the 20+ years bracket oppose the project.  The other groups fall in line with the state average, at 60 percent opposition.  People who've spent five years or less in New Hampshire also have the lowest level of Northern Pass supporters, at eight percent.  In all other groups, 19 to 20 percent of respondents favored the project.  The newest and oldest New Hampshire residents were also much less inclined than other groups to answer that they didn't know their opinion on Northern Pass.
  • Region:  In all regions, opposition to eminent domain ranged from 66 percent (Seacoast) to 72 percent (North Country).  The lowest rates of support were in the North Country, at 15 percent, and Hillsborough County, at 16 percent.  In the rest of the state, support for Northern Pass using eminent domain ranged from 19 to 23 percent.

 
Ed. Note: In an earlier version of this post, we described the poll as a measure of Northern Pass support or opposition.  Rather, it was a measure of support for eminent domain vis-a-vis Northern Pass.  We regret the error.