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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.

Three North Country Reps Voted To Kill Power Line Burial Bill

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Three North Country legislators were among those who voted to kill a bill that would have recommended - but not required - elective, electric transmission lines on towers over 50 feet high be buried, ideally along state rights-of-way.

The bipartisan bill - H.B. 431 - was sponsored by Larry Rappaport, a Republican from Colebrook and several other North Country representatives. 

It would have provided legislative guidance in the form of a recommendation to the Site Evaluation Committee that the legislature has concluded burying the lines is preferred unless the utility can provide evidence that burial is impractical. But the bill did not require the lines be buried.

The Site Evaluation Committee must approve major utility projects.

The bill only covered elective transmission projects, which means those being done for commercial gain, rather than reliability.

The Northern Pass, which faces strong opposition in the North Country, is one such project.

The Science, Technology and Energy Committee had recommended killing the bill, voting it “inexpedient to legislate.”

By a 213 - 131 vote the House, indeed, ruled it inexpedient to legislate.

The three North Country representatives who voted to kill the bill were Edmond Gionet, Republican, of Lincoln; Herb Richardson, a Republican, of Lancaster and John Tholl, a Republican of Whitefield.

Gionet wrote in an e-mail he opposed the bill because “It's not fair and equitable . It's a bill in my opinion designed to help a self-serving group , wanting to use the legislature as a pawn. Obviously the vote was indicative of that fact.” He did not respond to an email asking for more details on what he meant by “fair and equitable.”

Tholl wrote in an e-mail that he supports burying transmission lines but “I don't think that digging up main streets in several towns is the proper method.”

Richardson spoke against the bill before the House, saying he was “representing the silent majority of the North Country.”

He said he opposed the bill because the “lengthy construction” time  needed to bury lines along state roads would hurt tourism, travel and business.

“My county cannot afford a piece of legislation that would negatively impact Franconia Notch, Interstate 93 or Route 3,” he said.

Richardson also said major timberland owners had complained they could lose the money a utility would pay for allowing transmission lines to run through their property.

Instead those lines would run along state rights-of-way. Rappaport has said the utilities would pay the state for that use.

Ten other North Country representatives– a mix of Democrats and Republicans – voted not to kill the bill. Three representatives were excused from voting.

Those who voted not to kill the bill were:

* Susan Ford, Democrat, of Easton

* Erin Hennessey, Republican, of Littleton

* Linda Massimilla, Democrat, of Littleton

* Wayne Moynihan, Democrat of Dummer

* Larry Rappaport, Republican, of Colebrook

* Leon Rideout, Republican, Lancaster

* Robert Theberge, Democrat, of Berlin

* William Hatch, Democrat, of Gorham

* Yvonne Thomas, Democrat, of Berlin

* John Fothergill, Republican, of Colebrook

Those excused from voting were:

* Brad Bailey, Republican, of Monroe

* Rebecca Brown, Democrat, of Sugar Hill

* Alethea Froburg, Democrat, of Berlin

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