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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.

Despite Revised Proposal, Shaheen Still Concerned About Northern Pass

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Democratic U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen called the most Northern Pass recent proposal an important step forward, but says she’s not yet ready to endorse the project.

Speaking with NHPR’s Morning Edition, Shaheen says while she’s pleased more of the project’s power lines would be buried, she still has concerns about its impact.

"We’ve heard loud and clear from folks who say this is going to have an impact on my property, on tourism in the North Country, so I think it’s important they be responsive to that," she said. "I think it’s important that there be a benefit to people in New Hampshire as a result of what they’re proposing."

In a revised proposal released last week, Eversource says it will bury 60 miles of power lines along the 192-mile route, 52 of which run through the White Mountains.

The company also says it will set aside $200 million to go toward tourism and economic development in the state.

Four public meetings are scheduled for early next month where people can weigh in on the project.

The first meeting is Wednesday, Sept. 2 in Concord.

You can read the entire transcript of Sen. Shaheen's interview here:

Eversource last week released its revised proposal for the Northern Pass project. The new proposal would bury 60 miles of power lines, including 52 miles through the White Mountains.

Is this new proposal enough to win your support?

I think it’s an important step forward and as they say in the ads that they’re running now, they’ve tried to listen to the voters of New Hampshire and they want to continue to do that. They have some hearings set up around the state in the coming months to listen more to listen to New Hampshire citizens about their concerns. I think we need to let that process play out.

What will it take for you to support the project? Is it simply more buried lines, or is there something else you’re looking for?

I’m concerned about the impact on the environment and the impact on the citizens in the communities where those lines are going through. We’ve heard loud and clear from folks who say this is going to have an impact on my property, on tourism in the North Country, so I think it’s important they be responsive to that. I think it’s important that there be a benefit to people in New Hampshire as a result of what they’re proposing.

Let’s move to the nuclear deal with Iran. Since you came out in support of the deal, some prominent Senators in your own party say they’ll vote against it.

In opposing the deal, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez called the agreement aspirational and based on hope and said the United States would be forfeiting its leverage.

How do you respond to this kind of criticism from your own party?

We’ve heard two Democrats who have come out against it. I think there are many more who say they support the deal as I do. I disagree with Sen. Menendez. This deal is not about aspiration; it’s about holding Iran accountable and making sure that they comply. That’s why the inspections are there and will be the most intrusive inspections we’ve ever seen in this kind of a negotiated settlement. 

This deal is not about aspiration; it's about holding Iran accountable and making sure that they comply. That's why the inspections are there and will be the most intrusive inspections we've ever seen in this kind of a negotiated settlement.

  I think if we’re looking to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon – that’s my goal – the best way to do it is this negotiated deal.

You were in Ossipee last week to visit the Ossipee Pine Barrens, where you called for Congress to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That funding is due to expire next month as some Republicans are calling for reform of the program.

What’s at stake here for New Hampshire?

New Hampshire gets a significant amount of money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Through our forest legacy program, it helps preserve forests like the Pine Barrens in Ossipee, which are a really unique habitat.

One of the things that the LWCF does is it takes funding from off-shore leases and the money from those leases costs are supposed to go into the fund. Unfortunately, for most of the time since that legislation passed in the 1960s, Congress has stolen the money from that fund and left only a small amount of the $900 million that’s supposed to go into the LWCF. I think this is something we need to support. We not only need to reauthorize it, but we need to fund it.

What are some of the reforms that are being called for? Some Republicans have said this is a states’ rights issue.

One of the things that have been discussed is trying to provide some funding to states that have leases off their shores. Coastal states, like New Hampshire, would get a percentage of that funding because much of the infrastructure from those leases is housed in the adjoining coastal state. That’s an option I’m willing to look at, assuming it means we’re going to actually provide more funding for LWCF. If it’s a way to take funding away from the fund, then I don’t support that.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.
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