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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.

Northern Pass In Doubt, N.H. Lawmakers Want Governor To Back Its Competitor

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NHPR Photo
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Power line.
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An excerpt of the letter sent to Governor Sununu, who had yet to review it Monday afternoon.

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers wants Gov. Chris Sununu to support another big New Hampshire-based power line, now that the future of the Northern Pass project is in doubt.

The controversial transmission line proposal from Eversource is supposed to get a big contract with Massachusetts to help meet the state's renewable energy goals. But New Hampshire regulators denied Northern Pass its final permit last week. Now, Bay State officials are weighing whether to pick a different option.

Some New Hampshire legislators hope that option will be National Grid’s Granite State Power Link, a competitor to Northern Pass that’s still in the early stages of development. 

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Map of Granite State Power Link proposal.

It would bring about as much power from Canada to New England as Northern Pass, but would use almost exclusively existing power lines and right-of-ways.

Republican State Sen. Bob Giuda is one of 15 lawmakers -- including House Speaker Gene Chandler -- who wrote to the governor Monday to ask him to back the project. [Read the letter]

"It just makes more sense,” Giuda says. “We get the power in the grid, we do it without destroying viewscapes irreparably, we do it without the ill will of the Northern third of the state."

Democratic Rep. Sharon Nordgren also signed the letter. She says the National Grid project is an ideal way to capitalize on Massachusetts’ energy policies.

“Anything we can do to increase the possibility that New Hampshire will get some of the benefits from this, and not just the environmental impact, that would helpful,” she says.

Sununu has previously supported Northern Pass. His spokesman said the governor's office had received the letter Monday afternoon and the governor looked forward to reviewing it.

In a statement, National Grid vice president for business development Will Hazelip says they’re grateful for the support.

“Assuming Northern Pass isn’t a reality, our project is the only way New Hampshire can still benefit from the Massachusetts procurement,” he says.

The utility plans to apply for its New Hampshire siting permit this spring or summer.

It still leaves a tight timeline – Massachusetts needs whatever project it picks for its long-term contract online by the end of 2020.

The Commonwealth has given its main utilities, including the distribution arms of Eversource and National Grid, until this Friday to decide if Northern Pass is still viable. If they decide it’s not, the state would consider other proposals. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated National Grid was the developer behind Northern Pass. In fact, it is Eversource. The previous version also stated Granite State Power Link would carry primarily Canadian hydropower, when in fact, it would carry primarily Canadian wind power that is backed up by hydro.

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