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Environment
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.

Transmission Line That Beat Out Northern Pass for Mass. Power Contract Has Its Critics

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Fred Bever / Maine Public
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Greg Caruso, ferryman for the Appalachian Trail. In season, he takes through-hikers across the Kennebec River, a few miles downstream from where CMP wants to build a major transmission line. He opposes the plan – even with CMP’s offer to donate land and m";s:

By Fred Bever, Maine Public

 

While the Trump administration is working to prop up coal-fired power plants, many states are on the hunt for renewable energy. In New England, though, a plan by Massachusetts to tap into Canada's vast, low-polluting hydroelectric dam system is drawing fire.

 

The stakes are high in Maine's West Forks region, where it's the beginning of the rafting season. The transmission line would cross here at Maine's Kennebec River Gorge, a steep-walled, verdant river canyon that's drawn whitewater enthusiasts for decades.

 

Kevin Ross, a guide with Dead River Expeditions, has been training recruits here for several weeks - and that includes intentional raft-flips and rescues.

 

A bit below the most challenging rapids, Ross points out a pile of rocks that wedge out into the river, nearly meeting another pile wedging out from the other side. "This is an old native American fishing weir, " he says.

 

Before the thrill-seeking tourists, the river was prized - and reshaped, Ross acknowledges, by earlier Maine residents. "So over the years people have changed this river and adapted to this river."

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Credit Fred Bever / Maine Public
Kevin Ross, a rafting guide for Dead River Expeditions, points to a section of the Kennebec River Gorge where CMP proposes a major transmission line crossing. It would arc over an otherwise undeveloped seven mile stretch of the river. Ross opposes the plan, but CMP and other stakeholders have struck a mitigation deal that would include donations of recreational land and funding for economic development in the West Forks area. CREDIT FRED BEVER / MAINE PUBLIC)

 

But a giant extension cord between Canada and Massachusetts that would arc across the middle of an undeveloped gorge? That's a bridge too far, he says.

 

"It's hard to find places in this world that you don't see buildings, you don't see cell phone towers, you don't see... transmission lines," Ross says.

 

Meanwhile, from a bluff up above, local selectman Sandie Thompson cheers on another batch of rafters, some of the 15,000-plus visitors expected here this year. She reluctantly supports the project, partly because developer Central Maine Power is offering locals a $22 million compensation package focused on outdoor recreation.

"If some of the monies can come back to the community and help - I'd rather see transmission lines than wind power, those wind mills are terrible." Thompson says. "These rafting companies are in a tailspin."

The incentive package includes land and trails for hiking and mountain biking, a visitor center, funds for nature-based economic development, and new broadband lines.

"I think people... they like amenities," says Suzanne Hockmeyer, who co-founded the first ragtag rafting company here back in the 1970s. She helped negotiate the compensation package.

Hockmeyer says these days, a lot of baby boomers have already crossed whitewater dare-deviltry off their bucket lists, and the area needs wider offerings to compete with other Maine destinations.

"We knew that this area desperately needs some infrastructure, some money... to be one of the players," she says.

But opposition is evident among residents who make their living on and near the river. Greg Caruso is a hunting, fishing and rafting guide, and in summer he rounds things out in his canoe, ferrying hikers on the Appalachian Trail across the river.

The famed footpath would be partially rerouted to accommodate the power line, and he's not a fan of the deal local interests cut.

"Is it blood money?" he asks. "Could be considered that in my opinion.... I also think it's an easy sell out."

"Is it blood money?" he asks. "Could be considered that in my opinion.... I also think it's an easy sell out."

Hydro Quebec has promised that the plan would reduce the global production of greenhouse gas emissions. But Caruso suspects the company will simply take power it's already sending to other customers and shift it to Massachusetts, enabling politicians there to say they are doing the "green" thing.

That concern is shared by others, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the deep-pocketed Patagonia Company.

"Why do I have to worry about power in Boston?" Caruso continues. "Why do I have to have somebody detract from my wilderness experience, my living, to benefit themselves?"

And while project supporters, among them the governors of Massachusetts and Maine, have secured some local support, they still must negotiate many potential obstacles ahead, including permit hearings by state and federal regulators.

 

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