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Great Bay Towns Turn Out Against Transmission Line

Annie Ropeik

At least 150 Seacoast residents packed a state hearing Thursday night to urge regulators to reject a proposed transmission line.

Eversource and the region’s grid operator, ISO-New England, say the 13-mile line between Madbury and Portsmouth is vital to improve electric reliability in the region.

The project’s $84 million pricetag would be spread across all New England ratepayers.

But residents like Robert Raymond of Newington want the utility to do and spend more to reduce local impacts, or call the project off altogether.

“There’s a figure that’s not in there – that’s the harm that’s being done to the environment, to people’s lives,” he told the Site Evaluation Committee Thursday. “And when you put a price on that, I think you’ll come up with a conclusion that the project should not go through.”

Of the 50 or so commenters who spoke during the three-hour hearing, only one – the head of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce – supported the project as proposed.

Many Durham and Newington residents said the power line would be a scar on the rural and historic character of their towns, which their master plans seek to preserve.

"Newington has given so much – Pease Air Force Base, the Pease Development Authority, the Spaulding Turnpike. Each occupy land that was once rural Newington,” said James Belanger of Newington. “And now Eversource wants to push a huge transmission line straight through the center."

Other residents worry construction will stir up chemical contamination left in local soil and water by Pease Air Force Base and other industry in the area. Eversource says they’ve worked with state officials on determining that contamination doesn’t pose a risk.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Former state legislator and executive councilor Dudley Dudley, who led the charge against a proposed oil refinery in Durham decades ago, testifies against the proposed power line.

If the project is built, some neighbors want more of it buried to avoid views of tall towers in their back yards.

Eversource spokeswoman Kaitlyn Woods says completely burying the project would cost 10 times as much as their current plan – an estimated $10 million per mile.

Other residents worried that Eversource’s plan to “jet plow” the power line beneath Little Bay will stir up sediment and disturb an already degraded habitat.

Woods says the alternative to jet plowing, known as horizontal directional drilling, would cost much more and cause some of the same impacts.  

Residents called on the SEC to make Eversource use an alternative route for the project, or another reliability upgrade plan altogether. Woods says ISO-New England considered and dismissed such alternatives several years ago.  

“This is a critical project in terms of reliability and will provide a direct benefit to the residents and businesses in the Seacoast area by ensuring they continue to receive reliable power,” Woods says.

The state's Site Evaluation Committee must decide in part whether the project unduly interferes with natural resources and orderly development on the Seacoast.

They’ll take more testimony from stakeholders through the end of this month before deliberating on the project in November. They could impose added conditions for its construction if they decide to certify it.

(This post was updated to clarify that the utility's estimate for underground construction for the project is $10 million per mile.)

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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