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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.

Northern Pass Says State Could Overrule Forest Society Land Claims

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Chris Jensen
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NHPR

In what appears to be a groundbreaking  tactic Northern Pass says it plans to ask the state’s Site Evaluation Committee to give it permission to bury its transmission lines on roadside property that the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forest says it controls.

But there are serious doubts that the Site Evaluation Committee has that authority, leading to the prospect of a court fight and delay in the project.

The society says it has land in two places that are blocking the new route Northern Pass  announced in June. To try and win more support Northern Pass said it would bury about eight miles of transmission lines and locate some towers in more remote areas.

Part of Northern Pass’s new route runs through Clarksville along a section of Route 3.

And this stretch of road is a problem for Northern Pass, says  Will Abbott, an official with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

“We’re looking at an expanse of land that is part of a 2,100-acre Forest Society reservation called the Washburn Family Forest,” Abbott says.

The Forest Society obtained the land years ago.

“We own both sides of the road, including underneath the road from here up to the town line. And we own over to the center line of the Connecticut River,” says Abbott.

Northern Pass’ new plan calls for burying the transmission lines here, along Route 3.

But Abbott says Northern Pass does not have permission to use almost 500 feet of land owned by the Forest Society.

And a little farther east there’s another section of the proposed route that could also pose problems.

It’s along Bear Rock Road in Stewartstown and Rod McAllaster’s family has farmed the area for decades.

His family bought this little parcel of land around Bear Rock Road about forty years ago.

“Well, it’s some fields, some woods it was an individual farm at one time, probably a 10-cow farm at a time when people farmed with horses,” he says.

Recently he sold a conservation easement to The Forest Society so it could block Northern Pass.

“They own under this road,” he says. “The state and the town only own the right-of-way as far as I know.”

And because of that, and the section of route in Clarksville, the Forest Society’s Will Abbott claims the Northern Pass project is in trouble.

“Well, I think they are between a rock and a hard place at the moment and I can’t believe but that they don’t think the same thing.”

But Michael Skelton, a spokesman for Northern Pass, disagrees.

“We obviously have a different perspective than The Forest Society and we think what we are proposing to do is in alignment with state law and what has been an accepted practice for close to 100 years here in New Hampshire,” he says.

Skelton says on roads throughout the state there are utility poles above ground and sometimes pipelines below.

“So, what we are proposing to do is not dissimilar to that,” Skelton says. “We are using an established public roadway for the placement of a utility line.”

And he says state officials can approve such requests.

“Ultimately the arbiter in deciding whether that is an appropriate use of that pubic roadway is the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee,” he says.

Abbott disagrees.  He says the Forest Society’s lawyers will argue the Site Evaluation Committee does not have the authority to take private land.

“Northern Pass seems to be making the argument that they can go to the state and the state can wave some magic wand and use land that is privately owned for this project as they are proposing,” he says.

Indeed the Site Evaluation Committee does not have the authority to take private land, says Michael Iacopino, the SEC’s lawyer.

Iacopino declined to predict how the SEC might handle such a request from Northern Pass since the project is pending.

But he said someone asking the SEC to approve the use of private lands over the opposition of the land owner would be a “novel” issue and one that has never before been encountered by the SEC.

Former Public Utilities Commission chairman Doug Patch says having the SEC resolve a dispute between The Forest Society and Northern Pass is an “unlikely scenario.”

Patch is an energy lawyer from Concord and for the last 20 years he has been involved with the SEC as a committee member or an attorney practicing before it.

 “I can’t think of a situation like that where the committee has been presented with an issue like this and actually had to resolve it or whether they have been deemed to have the jurisdictional authority to resolve it,” he said in a telephone interview.

“It seems more likely to me that this kind of issue would be resolved in a different forum, perhaps before a probate court or in some other forum, some other litigated forum,” Patch says.

That could mean a long court fight.

Or Northern Pass might simply decide to try another route.

Northern Pass spokesman Michael Skelton says the route announced recently is a “proposed route and that route could change going through the permitting process based on what we learn.”

One alternative noted in Northern Pass’ most recent filing with the U.S. Department of Energy is trying to cross 100 feet of the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters, which is protected by a conservation easement held by the state.

But Northern Pass’ Skelton says that is not being seriously considered and was only included due to a regulatory requirement to list alternatives.

 

 

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