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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.

Executive Councilor: Sununu Needs To Do More Outreach On Northern Pass

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

A public hearing will be held Wednesday in Concord to hear from residents on the proposed Northern Pass project, the next step in the state Site Evaluation Committee's review process.

The panel is expected to vote sometime later this year on whether to approve the $1.6 billion project.

If approved, the Northern Pass would run from Pittsburg to Deerfield, carrying hydroelectricity from Canada into southern New England.

The project recently got a key recommendation from the U.S. Department of Energy, which concluded it would not have a significant impact on the environment.

Still, many Granite Staters remain opposed, including Executive Councilor Joe Kenney. The Republican represents northern New Hampshire and he's among those scheduled to speak at Wednesday’s public hearing. 

He joined NHPR’s Morning Edition.

You've spoken out against this project, but what have you been hearing from constituents in the past month or two?

Last year I spoke out quite strongly against this. Obviously, it's getting down to the wire. And what I'm hearing from a lot of constituents is obviously concerns with the process the project overall and whether or not it really is in the public interest. And I'm asking elected officials in the state of New Hampshire to now weigh in on whether or not they support or do not support Northern Pass because if you're going to be silent, you're basically in concurrence with the project in my judgment. This is one of the most monumental projects since probably Seabrook. It's going to potentially impact many generations if it goes through. So what I'm hearing from people are they're concerned about some of the processes right now with regards to the right away width up in Easton and Franconia and Clarksville, whether the high voltage direct currents can really be built underground, under the rivers and under these roadways. So that's the latest concern that I've heard with regards to this specific aspect of the project. But from the get go, the negatives have always outweighed the positives.

Credit Allegra Boverman
Executive Councilor Joe Kenney

So for you, it’s ultimately about whether this is a good deal for New Hampshire.

Absolutely, and in my judgment from the get go is it has not been a good deal in the sense that the power's going to be distributed into the New England grid. We're not going to see electricity rates go down. The Forward Fund in my judgment…the Tillotson Fund has far more impact in that part of state, with over $300 million, millions of dollars that it gives out to support North Country people. The Forward Fund, we know why it's been developed and presented. However, it will never have the impact of the Tillotson Fund.

Do you agree that there is an issue as far as energy is concerned in the Granite State, and in New England in general? Are you opposed to any energy project that would bring power in from Hydro-Quebec?

We have the National Grid project, a program called the Granite State Power Link, which is proposing to expand its power lines through western Grafton County from Hydro-Quebec. And that project, which would bring in 1,200 megawatts of energy, that's a project I could support. The reality is there is already a pre-existing line they just have to retrofit some of the power lines and it will work. We don't need to build another energy right of way that we already have here in New Hampshire

Governor Chris Sununu is backing Northern Pass. Has he done enough to hear those concerns and talk to people in the North Country?

It's my judgment that he needs to go into the North Country on a listening tour to speak to people directly about this project. Whether they are for or against, they expect representation on the issue. And I have not seen the governor specifically speak on that topic, which he should in my judgment.

Under the proposal 60 miles of the 192- mile project would be buried, including the portion that does run through the White Mountains. You've said that if it does get approved it should all be buried but how realistic is that given the cost consideration?

Well, that’s just it. In my judgment, it shouldn't be built at all. And so if there is a cost consideration – the Chinese built the Great Wall of China, the Egyptians built the pyramids – it's a project that can be done underground and if there's a cost associated with that, so be it. But you can never replace the North Country or its beautiful mountains and scenery

Eversource says ultimately their plan would have no visual impact along the Appalachian Trail or in the Franconia Notch area, and that more than 80 percent of the project would actually be underground or along existing power line rights of way. What do you have to say to that?

(Sununu) needs to go into the North Country on a listening tour to speak to people directly about this project. Whether they are for or against, they expect representation on the issue, and I have not seen the governor specifically speak on that topic.

Well, I've looked at some of their images on their website and I can tell you right now the image they have looking out from the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield, that's not where people are looking at. They go to the high ground and Route 3 as they overlook the valley in Whitefield, and that's where you're going to see the high powered lines. I just climbed Mt. Lafayette over the weekend. If you go up those beautiful mountains, there's going to be locations you're going to see that power line. You can't get away from Northern pass having a visual impact here in New Hampshire.

What's been your take on the Site Evaluation Committee's process? This has been going on for years now. Do you feel that it's been transparent?

I think it's been an open, fair process. They did do a site tour up north a few weeks ago. Many of them have just touched base in northern New Hampshire for the first time, probably in many years to get a feel what's going on on the ground, particularly with those roadways that are going to be impacted. So I think it's been a fair process. There's been a good exchange. I know these people are under a lot of pressure and they're doing a lot of great work and putting in the hours and going to these hearings. I ultimately will hope that they'll vote this application down, but at the same time I've always put faith in good New Hampshire people to do the right thing. 

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.
Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.
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