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North Country
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.

AMC Says Northern Pass Would Have "Visual Impact" On 95,000 Acres

northernpassCJ.jpg
Chris Jensen for NHPR
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A new study by the Appalachian Mountain Club says the towers for the Northern Pass hydro-electric project would “visually impact” about 95,000 acres in the state.

That includes about 3,000 acres in the White Mountain National Forest and 9,000 acres around Concord, the report says.

In all 23 towns from Whitefield south to Deerfield would be affected by the towers, the study said.

Northern Pass issued a statement saying AMC was a foe of the project and its study was “deeply flawed.”

The study did not look at Northern Coos County because Northern Pass – which is backed by Public Service of New Hampshire – has not yet revealed that route.

Northern Pass has said the towers would range in height from about 80 to 135 feet.

But since it isn’t certain how tall the towers would be in each location the AMC based its assessment on 90-foot  towers, says Kenneth Kimball, AMC’s director of research.

Even using 90-footowers the 120-mile route along an existing right-of-way from Whitefield to Franklin would be bad, Kimball says.

“This is more than big towers, it is big towers in some of the most important parts of the state relative to people who come to visit here and recreate,” he says.

Not only would towers be easily seen along Interstate 93 but they would be viewed by many hikers in the White Mountain National Forest, the study says.

That’s a problem, Kimball says, because people don’t come to New Hampshire “to have it look like New Jersey.”

“What we are doing now is trying to rationalize why we should further convert it from a more natural-looking landscape to one that is an industrial landscape.”

Officials at Northern Pass described the report as “a deeply flawed document written by Club staff with no apparent qualifications or experience conducting a professional visual impact assessments.”

Based on its work in other cases of this type Kimball said AMC is very familiar with how visual simulation and such assessments should be done.

The AMC study also criticized the Northern Pass “visual simulations” of how the towers would look.

“A classic example being the photo simulation from Bethlehem, New Hampshire from The Rocks (Estate) area where it is a photo taken in October at 5:30 in the afternoon looking east and the corridor is in the deep shadow of the day. It is almost a night-time look,” Kimball said.

Those visual simulations were done by LandWorks of Middlebury, Vermont.

David Raphael, a landscape architect, planner and principal at LandWorks, said the late-afternoon timing was not inappropriate because people might go there at the end of the day. There was no effort to conceal anything, he said in an interview.

The AMC study also complained that the visual simulations did not include key, scenic areas.

But Raphael said that criticism was premature and unfair because the project is still underway.

“We are only showing a few simulations. We are developing simulations from all the sensitive vantage points in the White Mountains and along the corridor route,” he said.

Raphael said assertions that the work was unprofessional were blatantly untrue.

“I take direct offense at that. We have been doing visual simulations and visual-impact assessments for 25 years,” he said.

He said he would be happy to meet with AMC officials to discuss the simulations.

The study also says important areas that AMC says would be affected include:

* The Appalachian Trail (Kinsman Ridge Trail) at the crossing of the NP corridor in Lincoln NH.

* South Kinsman Mtn, viewpoints at (a) 0.1 miles and (b) 0.25 miles south of the summit in Lincoln NH.

* Turtletown Pond in Concord.

* Interstate 93 crossing at milepost 98.8 in Woodstock.

* The Appalachian Trail (Kinsman Ridge Trail) at a viewpoint below the summit of Mt Wolf.

* The Appalachian Trail (Benton Trail) 0.15 mile north of the summit of Mt Moosilauke.

* Pawtuckaway firetower in Pawtuckaway State Park.

* U.S. Route 302 in Bethlehem at NP crossing (near Brook Road).

* Interstate 93 northbound at milepost 95.2 in Woodstock.

* Interstate 93 at milepost (a) 76.8 northbound and (b) 75.8 southbound in Ashland.

* Interstate 93 crossing south of exit 39 Bethlehem.

* Mt Pemigewasset on the border of Franconia Notch State Park and the White Mountain National Forest.

Here are the towns along the route that AMC says would be affected:

* Whitefield

* Dalton

* Bethlehem

* Sugar Hill

* Easton

* Lincoln

* Woodstock

* Thornton

* Campton

* Holderness

* Ashland

* Bridgewater

* New Hampton

* Bristol

* Hill

* Franklin

* Northfield

* Canterbury

* Concord

* Pembroke

* Chichester

* Allenstown

* Deerfield

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