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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' New Route Hangs On Eight Miles of Country Roads

After a series of delays PSNH has announced a new route for its Northern Pass project. 

The route follows a more easterly path than the original 2010 route and it includes nearly eight miles of underground wires.  But this new route isn’t a done deal. State officials still have to approve a key element – putting those underground lines on public property.For almost two years Northern Pass and its opponents have played geographic chess in Northern Coos County.

Northern Pass spent millions of dollars on land.

Opponents, including The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, used tactics such as conservation easements to block the utility.

But Thursday PSNH president Gary Long unveiled a new proposed route.

“We now have a complete route. We now can get from the Canadianborder to the grid, New England grid, that we connect to in Deerfield, New Hampshire.”

But that route is hardly a done deal, notes Christophe Courchesne, a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation, which has concerns about the project.

 “Right now there is no route that Northern Pass controls and Northern Pass needs public land to make its project a reality.”

The key to the new route is burying about eight miles of the high-power lines along public roads in the northernmost part of the state.

They include Route 3 and several smaller, county roads, mostly in Stewartstown.

PSNH’s Long says putting the wires underground alongside the roads avoids potential visual impacts and addresses past public concerns.  And he says PSNH will work closely with the state and towns and neighbors of the lines.

 “We are going to have more dialogue. That is the New Hampshire way. That is the way we like to work.”

The underground lines are crucial because they allow Northern Pass to get around the conservation-easement blockade and avoid trying to cross the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters conservation area.

But neither Coos County nor the towns will make the decision on whether to allow the lines to be buried.

Instead approval to bury the lines along a right-of-way needs the approval of the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.

It’s  a sixteen member group made up of officials from various state agencies.

On Wednesday Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a bill to study the Site Evaluation Committee, including whether more citizen input is needed.

That’s something Sen. Jeff Woodburn, who represents the North Country, says should be part of the process.

“It violates in my mind the idea if not of local control, certainly local involvement.”

Long says the project will file a permit application with the Site Evaluation Committee in 2014.  During that time he said they will hold a series of open house events in towns along or near the line.

But that didn’t do much to calm Northern Pass opponents as news of the new route spread.

Bob Baker is a lawyer from Columbia and an opponent of Northern Pass.

Right now they are desperate. They don’t have a route. They are now pleading for the SEC to give them permission to use state and town roads.”

There is also the question of why Northern Pass can’t bury more than eight miles of the lines, said the Conservation Law Foundation’s Courchesne.

It is really insulting to the rest of the communities along the route that they decided to take this approach of a minimal amount of burial.”

PSNH says burying would be too expensive, although in the past it has never provided a detailed analysis of those costs. 

The new route now has a price tag $200 million higher than the original route. Northern Pass spokesman Michael Skelton said most of that cost is putting the line underground but it also includes line redesigns, projected material and labor costs.

The news of the proposed route surprised and angered some opponents who thought the project had been blocked.

On Thursday PSNH’s Long addressed opponents saying, quote—“as we move forward, I’m asking those who have previously opposed this project to be open to working with us to address concerns.”

He also reiterated what he sees as the economic and environmental advantages of the project—saying 1200 jobs will be created during the construction period, and an additional 200 jobs each subsequent year.

Northern Pass’ announcement comes as its parent – Northeast Utilities – has been facing increasing questions from industry analysts about the project’s progress.

The project still faces other hurdles. For example it needs permission to use an existing right-of-way through The White Mountain National Forest.

And the overall project must still be approved  by the U.S. Department of Energy which will hold a series of public hearings.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen

 

 

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