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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.

Northern Pass Making Waves in North Country Senate Race

Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Incumbent Senator Jeff Woodburn (left) faces Republican Dolly McPhaul (right), a Northern Pass activist, in Senate District 1.

State Senator Jeff Woodburn of Dalton has a little more at stake this election than most of his State House colleagues. If he wins re-election, and his fellow Democrats manage to secure a majority in the Senate, Woodburn is poised to become Senate President, the second-highest ranking official in state government.

But first Woodburn must win re-election to his seat representing the North Country, where he faces an opponent running on a single, very local issue: the Northern Pass energy project. 

Ask state Senate candidate Dolly McPhaul what issues are on voters’ minds, and you’ll likely get this answer: Northern Pass.

In ffac, it’s why the Sugar Hill Republican decided to run for state office in the first place.

Northern Pass, a proposed 192-mile transmission line, would bring 1,000 megawatts of hydropower to the New England grid. Much of that would run from Canada through northern New Hampshire, and that’s earned it criticism from activists like McPhaul.

She says the entire project, which would cut through the heart of her Senate district, should be buried and run on state owned, not private property.

Credit Chris Jensen/NHPR
Although it's been six years since Northern Pass was proposed, signs against the project are still up in District 1.

“You know, I’ve watched them try to get legislation to require these lines to be buried along state owned rights of way, and they can’t even get it as a recommendation passed," McPhaul said. "I mean, there’s no doubt about it, I would fight for that.”

But before she can take on Northern Pass, McPhaul has to defeat the current District One Senator: Jeff Woodburn, who’s held the seat since 2012. Woodburn’s also the Democratic leader in the Senate and he won with 60 percent of the vote in each of his previous elections.

Woodburn would also prefer Northern Pass to bury all its lines. He also wants to ensure the project would help to boost the local economy.

“What I want is clear tangible benefits. If this thing is going to come through we need to make sure that we get compensated and use this money to produce a better economy," Woodburn said.

To read more about the details of Northern Pass, click here.

McPhaul says Woodburn has been too quiet on the issue. She also points out that he’s accepted campaign contributions from pro-Northern Pass labor unions.

But six years since this project was first proposed, does it still weigh heavily on voters’ minds?

Anti-Northern Pass signs still line roads in District One, with slogans like "Stop Northern Pass" and "N.H. is not for sale.”

Credit Paige Sutherland/NHPR
While door-knocking in Littleton, Dolly McPhaul spoke with Ed Bagley,81. Him and his wife are adamantly against Northern Pass.

As McPhaul knocked on some doors on a recent rainy afternoon, she heard similar sentiments. When she reached Ed Bagley’s house in Littleton, it didn’t take long for Northern Pass to find its way into the conversation.

“If they are going to bury it, that’s something else, but I’m an old fart. I’ve been up here for years, and I don’t like to see all that stuff around here," the 81-year-old Republican said.

Bagley said the power lines would be an eyesore and might result in higher property taxes.

Across town, at a café on Littleton’s main street, 23-year-old Emily Johansson was fine-tuning her resume. She’s also opposed to Northern Pass. She says people in Concord don’t understand why North Country residents are so worked up about the issue.

"We have a lot more forested areas up here that would be greatly impacted by that and I think that it needs attention especially, if you want to represent the state as a whole,” Johansson said.

Carrie Gendreau is President of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce. She says because the North Country relies so heavily on environmental tourism, Northern Pass has been a constant debate.

“It’s a concern that the towers could potentially take away from the scenic beauty, and for Southern New Hampshire it may not be as much as an issue but it certainly is up this way and I think that’s why the conversation is still in process,” Gendreau said.

The route of Northern Pass via Eversource's website. Currently, 60 miles of transmission lines are buried.

Woodburn doesn’t bring up Northern Pass much on the campaign trail. He says voters are more concerned about the opioid crisis and the region’s lagging economy.

“It’s constantly holding onto what we do have and trying to move the ball forward to get more progress, more attention, more resources brought back to the North Country and that’s what I’m focused on doing,” Woodburn said.

McPhaul says she’s also interested in things besides Northern Pass.

“We own a small business so I am very concerned about regulation and fostering a climate that will be attractive to new businesses," she said. "I'm also on the advisory board for children youth and families in Concord so the opioid crisis is close to my heart.”

No matter the candidates’ stances on Northern Pass and the outcome on Election Day, the project’s future is largely out of the legislature’s hands. Eversource is currently working through the permitting process and final approval will come down to the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.

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