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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.

Eversouce Says Total Burial of Northern Pass Too Expensive; Feds Say It's Feasible

Department of Energy

Last week Eversource official Lee Olivier told analysts that the company still thinks completely burying the Northern Pass line is “unnecessary” and “prohibitively expensive.”

But, he said, some additional burial might be possible.

That comes in response to the release of a new report from the Department of Energy that includes a look at the issue.

For years opponents of the controversial Northern Pass project have contended the overhead transmission lines could be buried.

And Northern Pass officials have insisted burial is too expensive.

Now a new report from the Department of Energy includes a look at the issue..

NHPR's Chris Jensen joins us to talk about what the report says with regard to burying transmission lines. 

RICK: Hi, Chris.

CHRIS: Good morning.

RICK: We’re looking at the federal Department of Energy’s draft Environmental Impact Statement that came out last week for public comment. It’s about 7800 pages in total.  Of course the most controversial issue around the project has been the push to bury the lines.  What does the report actually say?

CHRIS: It says extended burial is both, quote, “practical and technically feasible,” but in order to do that, developers would have to shrink the capacity of the project by more than 15 percent.  What that means is using 1000 megawatt lines instead of 1200 megawatt lines.

The 1,000 megawatt line is designed to be buried so it is cheaper.

But it is not yet clear if Eversource, Northern Pass’ parent, is ready to accept that change.

We did get one clue Eversource might be headed in that direction, though. Earlier this year it filed an interconnection request for a smaller power line.  That could be a sign that when Eversource presents an updated application with the state, that there will be substantially more burial.

RICK:  The report examines the project with overhead lines which is what Eversource first proposed - and then it lays out nine alternatives with varying amounts of burial.  How much do they differ?

Six of them call for what DOE calls full or extensive burial.

For example, one is to bury that smaller 1,000 megawatt line along the route Northern Pass planned to use for overhead lines. That would cost about twice as much as Northern Pass’ current overhead proposal which includes only eight miles of buried lines.

Generally the other alternatives would follow Route 3 south from the Canadian border to Interstate 93.

Then, the line would either go through the Franconia Notch on I-93 or follow smaller roads such as Route 112 and 116 in Easton, Franconia and Sugar Hill that already go through the White Mountain National Forest. Then, it would follow I-93 south.

Lastly there are three alternatives that would mostly use overhead and only bury the lines through the White Mountain National Forest, which many see as one of the big road-blocks for the project.

RICK: I imagine there’s quite a difference in cost among the proposals?

CHRIS: The DOE says putting the larger 1200 megawatt lines overhead, which is what Northern Pass wants, would cost a little more than $1 billion.

That is the cheapest project in the report.

One alternative DOE has proposed would bury all of the lines along 175 miles of roads. That would cost about $1.8 billion.

But that’s much cheaper than the burial figures Northern Pass officials have cited.

Last year Northern Pass said burying a 1,200 megawatt line along eight miles of roads in the far North Country would cost between $15 million and $20 million for each mile. At the high end that would be almost double the DOE’s estimate.

But a factor in the difference could be the difference in the capacity of the lines.

The DOE’s cost estimates only come to pass if Northern Pass downsizes the project to those 1,000 megawatt lines.

RICK: In addition to the cost differences, the report details the pros and cons for each of the alternatives and different amounts of burying the lines.  What does it say?

CHRIS: Well, one upside that some opponents have already seized upon is that burying more of the line means more jobs.

Northern Pass' preference is for overhead towers with only eight miles in the far North Country buried.

According to DOE Northern Pass’ overhead lines would create a total of 5,400 full-time construction jobs over three years.

If everything was buried DOE claims it would create a little more than 10,000 jobs spread over the three years.

And the economic impact for the region would almost double to about $1 billion.

That raises the possibility of an interesting alliance in favor of burial.

Opponents of Northern Pass who wanted it buried could find themselves suddenly allied with unions that have championed the project because of the jobs.

Other big advantages would be the least impact on the environment, tourism and property values.

Downsides to burial listed include some substantial, short-term traffic problems and an increased chance of erosion compared to the overhead lines.

RICK: And someone has to pay for burial.

CHRIS: Yes and so the real question is whether Northern Pass wants to do the project with the added cost.

RICK: How would burying the line along roads affect what Northern Pass would charge Hydro-Quebec for using it to send their electricity south?

CHRIS: Northern Pass spokeswoman Lauren Collins says the basic method would not change. She said Northern Pass “will charge Hydro-Quebec an annual fee based on the total capital costs of building and operating the line, not based on where the line runs.” 

One possibility is that the state could make a little money out of this if it could charge Northern Pass a fee for running along the roads.

But a Department of Transportation spokesman said anything more than a minimal fee would apparently require legislation.

RICK: So, what’s the latest on what Northern Pass is saying about burial?

CHRIS: Well, the project’s spokesperson Collins, says burying that smaller 1,000 megawatt line is quote, “one of the things we are looking at as we determine the best balance for the project going forward.”

And in that conference call with analysts Lee Olivier, the Eversource official, said the DOE report doesn’t poise “any unanticipated challenges.”

RICK:  And this report by no means has the final say on this issue…

CHRIS: No, not by a long shot.  The public now gets 90 days to comment on it and in October there will be public hearings in Plymouth, Whitefield and Concord. Then the DOE will produce the final version. And next we expect Eversource to file its project with the state’s Site Evaluation Committee. Even if the feds approve the project the Site Evaluation Committee also has to approve.

RICK: Thanks very much.

CHRIS: You are welcome.

To see all the DOE documents including maps go here.

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