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Site Evaluators Approve Eversource's Seacoast Power Line

Annie Ropeik

The state Site Evaluation Committee has given Eversource the green light to build a new transmission line on the Seacoast.

They voted unanimously Monday to certify the so-called Seacoast Reliability Project, after more than two weeks of exhaustive deliberations.

The $84-million-dollar proposal spans a 13-mile stretch between Madbury and Portsmouth, with a mile buried beneath Little Bay.

In the end, the SEC’s decision was straightforward. They agreed, as required by state statute, that the project is in the public interest and won’t do unreasonable harm along its route.

Eversource agreed in advance to most of the conditions the SEC imposed for construction.

The utility says the project, which involves new taller transmission towers and construction within the Piscataqua River estuary, is a necessary upgrade to overworked infrastructure in a fast-growing region.

That helped convince site evaluators like Christopher Way, the state's deputy economic development director:

“There’s a benefit to the state,” he said during Monday’s deliberations. “For those areas where it may be challenging or hard, I like to think that we’ve put some measures in place to maybe avoid or mitigate that.”

Still, neighbors like Diane McCann of Durham are disappointed that local concerns weren't given more weight:

“I just can’t imagine what’s going to happen to our bay,” she said during a break at the SEC Monday. “I hope the rest of the people in the state realize that.”

Durham town manager Todd Selig say opponents will review the official approval language once issued and decide whether to appeal the decision to the SEC or state Supreme Court.

“If the project ultimately proceeds to construction, the residents of Durham and Newington should know that it will be a better project for our local efforts,” Selig says in a statement.

Credit Eversource
A map shows the project route.

Eversource hopes to start construction of the power line in the spring of 2019, barring potential appeals.

Company spokeswoman Kaitlyn Woods says they’ll coordinate construction plans with municipalities and landowners along the route.

“This is an important opportunity for us to build trust with the communities,” she says. “Our outreach in the Seacoast area and with the property owners and businesses that will be impacted by this project has been extensive … and that’s something you’ll see throughout construction.”

The Seacoast project marked the first time Eversource went back before the SEC since the committee’s rejection of the controversial, and much larger, Northern Pass project earlier this year.

That denial took less than three days, after a nearly decade-long application process.

Eversource has appealed that case to the state Supreme Court, arguing regulators weren’t thorough enough in their deliberations. Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled.

This time around, Woods says Eversource feels the Seacoast project received an appropriately comprehensive review.

It’s the second “reliability” project the utility has gotten sited since 2016. Those projects are part of Eversource’s response to regional power grid operator ISO-New England’s mandate, issued several years ago, for more reliable infrastructure.

Eversource completed construction of its Merrimack Valley Reliability Project earlier this year.

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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