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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.

Rare Breed: A North Country Politician Favoring Northern Pass

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Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR
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Paul Grenier, the mayor of Berlin, one of three Coos Country Commissioners and an advocate of the Northern Pass was a lonely guy Wednesday evening at the U.S. Department of Energy’s third public hearing on the project.

Grenier walked through a sea of orange to reach the podium.

There were about 350 people gathered at the Mountain View Grand Resort and most wore orange, a symbol of their opposition to Northern Pass.

Grenier was not wearing orange.

Among North Country politicians he was a lonely champion of the controversial project, which does not go near his hometown of Berlin.

He said the changed route has significantly reduced “view impacts” on Northern Coos County.

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Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR

And, he said, the new tax revenue will be an enormous help funding public services and reducing the tax burden on citizens.

“Northern Pass is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he told the group.

About a dozen other North Country politicians strongly disagreed.

Executive Councilor Ray Burton said the transmission towers would mar the scenery and hurt the tourism.

“It is time for this project, Public Service Company, Hydro-Quebec to fold their tent, go home and leave us alone,” said Burton.

And Democrat State Rep. Linda Lauer, of Bath, worried that new tax revenues would be offset by the loss of residential property values.

“Now if they put 125-foot towers in front of my house, I guarantee you I am going to ask for a reduction in property values,” she said.

She also noted utilities, including Public Service of New Hampshire, often challenge towns, trying to reduce its property taxes.

That was also a concern mentioned by Berlin’s Grenier who said “it is critical that residents and taxpayers have assurances that the Northern Pass tax revenues will remain stable for the next twenty years.”

While Northern Pass says the project will provide about 1,200 construction jobs over several years, speakers said that was a temporary benefit more than offset by what they see as the downsides to a project that has nothing meaningful to offer long term.

“Hydro-Quebec would serve as the electrical outlet. Southern New England as the user and New Hampshire as the extension cord connecting the two,” said Republican State Rep. Brad Bailey of  Monroe.

Dismay at Northern Pass’ request to follow an existing right of way through the White Mountain National Forest and the need to bury the lines were themes at the meeting.

“It is not that we can’t bury these lines it is that we won’t even discuss it,” said Democrat State Rep. Susan Ford of Easton.

Northern Pass has said burying the lines is too expensive or impractical but it has yet to provide an analysis showing it has been studied.

Earlier this year Hydro-Quebec declined to send officials to attend a meeting of a state legislative committee looking at the issue of burying such power lines.

The final hearing is Thursday night from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Colebrook elementary school.

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Credit Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR
Federal officials listening to comments were, from left, David Keddell of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tom Wagner, supervisor of The White Mountain National Forest and Brian Mills of the Department of Energy.

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