Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Become a sustaining member and you could win a trip to Barbados!
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 And The Governor's Race: Who Stands Where

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Among the many issues facing gubernatorial candidates this year is the Northern Pass project.

During the last race for governor two years ago, the Northern Pass project made only a brief appearance.

In October of 2010, Governor Lynch took a break from campaigning to announce the Northern Pass project at a press conference in Franklin.

Lynch speaking…

Two years later the project has become controversial.

Sounds of protest for No Northern Pass

At one of about a dozen Northern Pass protests statewide last Saturday, Dolly McPhaul of Sugar Hill says she wants to know how each of this year’s gubernatorial candidates feels about the project.

“They have a lot of pull. And what they say means a lot to the people around.”

The governor has no direct role in approving the project.  The US Department of Energy and the state’s Site Evaluation Committee have to give the final go-ahead. 

But for many in the North Country and across the state, Northern Pass could be a factor in the voting booth.

Northern Pass is Public Service of New Hampshire’s plan to bring hydro-electric power from Canada about 180 miles through the state.

Some of the towers carrying that power could be 13 stories tall.

PSNH says the project would bring hundreds of construction jobs and renewable energy to the region.

Opponents say the towers would hurt property values, scenic views and tourism all so that two large corporations could profit.

Following strong, community objections Northern Pass has withdrawn a key element of its original plan which called for cutting a new, 40-mile corridor through Northern Coos.

It is now seeking a new route through Northern Coos although it is still likely to require cutting.

No candidate for governor this year expressed approval of the original route or the idea of the huge towers.

But there isn’t a take-no-prisoners rejection of the project either. 

After all, it’s proposed by one of the state’s most powerful corporate citizens.

And construction and electrical workers – who hope to be employed - vote, too.

All the candidates say the project might be okay if the transmission lines are buried.

But beyond that there are some variations.

Democrat Jackie Cilley says New Hampshire shouldn’t simply be a conduit for a for-profit corporation.

“We don’t trade our land to a for-profit company. We don’t trade our sky scape. We don’t trade our tourism jobs, some of which go back generations, to a for-profit company.”

As governor she says she would urge the state’s Site Evaluation Committee “to not approve a plan that included towers that interfered with the scenic beauty of our state.”

Democrat Maggie Hassan says she’s waiting to see the new route being sought by Northern Pass.

 “Any proposal that they come forward with must be supported by the communities that are going to be affected. I think it is very important to take into consideration our scenic views and natural landscape because they are such valuable assets.”

She is also concerned that the Site Evaluation Committee hears what she calls “public voices” and seriously considers them.

Democrat Bill Kennedy says before he could approve Northern Pass he has a lot of requirements. No eminent domain; guaranteed construction jobs for New Hampshire; a clear benefit such as a drop in utility rates and protection of the environment and scenery.

For the Republicans, the issue is much the same.  There’s no outright rejection of it, but there are a lot of cautionary statements.

Republican Ovide Lamontagne says before the project goes forward it has to be clear how the state benefits.

“I certainly would want us to have a power-purchase agreement in place that provides New Hampshire access to that power at a below-market price and also give us the ability to have the right of first refusal on that power shouldthere  be an interruption with the grid.”

He says as governor he would closely watch the Site Evaluation Committee’s process to make sure that “people’s interests are protected and their voices are heard.”

Republican Kevin Smith says he is greatly concerned about the impact on those living along the route.

“I think it would have a devastating effect on the landscape but also on the value of the private property owners that are going to be the path of the right-of-ways.”

 “The property rights of the private-property owners trump everything.”

If elected Smith says he would appoint department heads who share his concerns about the project.

Some of those department heads would make up the Site Evaluation Committee.

Republican Robert Tarr says he doesn’t support the current Northern Pass plan and thinks there are better alternatives.

The controversy over the Northern Pass project has been felt most keenly in the state’s North Country but it has also gotten traction south of the notches.  

However, it remains to be seen just how key it will be to statewide voters next Tuesday …

Related Content

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.