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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.

Lawmakers Look at Granite State Power Link as Alternative to Northern Pass

Michael Kappel via Flickr CC

With the Northern Pass transmission line on the rocks, regulators in Massachusetts are facing a big decision. They had planned to give that project a long term contract, but now might have to pick a different option.

Some are hoping it'll be another New Hampshire project, a transmission line proposal from National Grid called the Granite State Power Link. Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with NHPR's energy reporter Annie Ropeik about that project and its prospects.

(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

So what is the Granite State Power Link proposal?

So this is how National Grid wants to bring 1200 megawatts of power from Canadian wind farms down to the New England grid. It would be 59 miles of new high voltage power line in existing transmission corridors and rights of way from Norton, Vermont to Monroe, New Hampshire, so right over the state line. And then from there they would just upgrade existing power lines all the way to Londonderry where they would build a new substation to distribute the power. They say this would cost $1.1 billion. And they also have Citizens Energy as their co-developer on this project so that some of the energy assistance benefits from the new development would go to low income consumers along the grid. And they also want to put some economic development money into towns along the route, which is kind of a similar thing that Northern Pass had planned to do in the North Country.

But this would have 59 miles of new transmission line. The rest as you said would be along existing quarters. That seems like an easier sell.

Yeah absolutely. I mean and all of the new line is pretty much in Vermont.

Northern Pass got denied at the Site Evaluation Committee last week, because regulators were worried that it would have too big an impact to development in the region. So remind us what this means for Massachusetts plans.

Yeah, so it puts Massachusetts in a difficult position. They had wanted to buy 1200 megawatts of new renewable power, and the state law that that sort of set that process up mandated that it all be online by the end of 2020. So Northern Pass was going to have to pretty much scramble to do that even under the best of circumstances, and now their permit has gotten denied in New Hampshire. They're sort of waiting on this lengthy appeals process to start. It could go to the state Supreme Court. So they have kind of hit a wall there, and that means that Massachusetts is basically trying to decide if the project is still viable for what they want to try to do. They've given their distributors, which are the companies that would use the power including Eversource and National Grid, kind of the distribution arms of them rather than the development arms. They say it's separate and therefore independent. They've given those companies until today to decide if Northern Pass can move forward and if not, they in theory would go and look at other options. And one of those options is Granite State Power Link. There's at least 40 other projects that also want to be the next thing picked. So it's a big question for if they want to keep banking on Northern Pass, or they want to bank on a different project that might not have as rocky of a timeline ahead of it.

Yeah, but of all the other projects I imagine, is Granite State the only comparable project to Northern Pass as far as supply and capacity?

Yeah so it is one of the only other projects in the running that is right up at that twelve hundred megawatt level. That's the entire total that Massachusetts wanted to buy. There's maybe half a dozen other big transmission or really big wind farm projects that are up at around 1000 or something like that. And then you know kind of on down from there to smaller scale wind, and solar and hydro projects. So Granite State would really fill out the total, but it's a lot further behind on its permitting than a lot of projects that are in the running. In fact, they don't have any of their state or federal permits yet. They're looking at going to the Site Evaluation Committee here in New Hampshire in the next few months. And they're waiting on their presidential permit, which will let them go over the border. And after that they would get to start construction. But there are some other transmission projects--notably one that would go under Lake Champlain in Vermont that's called TDI. [It] has big support from the governor there and other people, and they are pretty much ready to start building.

So Granite State right now [is] in early days really. Here in New Hampshire, Gov. Sununu has supported Northern Pass, and he said he was disappointed with the Site Evaluation Committee's decision not to give that project its permit. Of course Eversource, like I said, they're planning to appeal that decision. But this week, the governor got a letter from 15 state senators and representatives asking him to support Granite State Power Link for the contract with Massachusetts. What were their reasons?

Yeah, so they got asked by National Grid you know to kind of consider supporting the project. And they took a look at it, and I spoke to a couple of them and they said that they really just feel like it's a better option for New Hampshire to kind of capitalize on what Massachusetts is doing. So that if it's going to be buying power from something that's in New Hampshire, you know it might as well be a project that has more benefits to this state than costs and then impacts, and they think that Granite State Power Link wouldn't have some of the environmental effects and the development issues that we saw come through for Northern Pass at the Site Evaluation Committee. You know it mostly is going to be an existing rights of way. It's not even going to build a ton of new lines. And they feel like that's just lower impact, higher benefit for New Hampshire than Northern Pass. So they would like to see Governor Sununu shift his support behind that project and kind of lobby for it to win the Massachusetts contract if they choose not to go with Northern Pass.

And what did the Governor you say about that?

When we last checked with him, he said he was still reviewing the letter and he hadn't commented further.

What does Massachusetts going to do, Annie, about all of this? And what will that mean for those projects ability to move forward with construction?

Yeah, so like we said they're deciding whether to kind of dump Northern Pass, and you know go back to the drawing board to pick another project or set of projects. You know they just have to build this 1200 megawatts out of whatever they would like to purchase pretty much.

Whether they have one big project or several smaller ones?

Exactly, and so you know a lot of the smaller developers are saying hey this is a sign. You should be you know hedging your bets and picking a mixture of projects so if one fails, you're not completely out in the cold like they are currently with Northern Pass. So depending on what they end up picking, this could leave Granite State Power Link a great position. Or you know if they don't get the contract, this was their main commercial option as of now. Like it was the main buyer that they had for their project. And as you said, it is in the early stages. So if they don't get this contract, they basically just have to spend the next phases of development marketing themselves and trying and find another buyer, which is what Northern Pass would have to do if Massachusetts kind of left them behind and they did somehow end up going forward. It would be a buyer's market for them to try to find someone else to pick up the project.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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