After Major Blow To Northern Pass, What's Next for Hydropower In New England?

Jul 24, 2019

Residents calling themselves the No Northern Pass Coalition present more than 2600 letters of opposition to Governor Lynch's office, March 22, 2011.
Credit Amy Quinton for NHPR

Last week, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire delivered a unanimous "no" to the Northern Pass Project, a proposal to bring hydro-power from Canada through New Hampshire and onto the New England grid.  The justices affirmed the Site Evaluation Committee's 2018 denial of the Eversource proposal, ruling the SEC had acted legally. 

Eversource had argued that the SEC did not properly consider all of the criteria presented to them in support of the project.  For years, Northern Pass has met with fierce opposition from groups concerned about the project's aesthetic and environmental impacts.  On The Exchange, we will look at what led to the Project's defeat and what it might mean for the future of hydropower in New England. 


  • Sam Evans-Brown - Host of NHPR's podcast, Outside/In and long-time environment reporter. Evans-Brown also produced Powerline, an Outside/In series about Hydro-Quebec, the world's fourth largest hydropower producer connected with the Northern Pass Project. 
  • John Dankosky - Executive editor of the New England News Collaborative and host of NEXT, a weekly radio show and podcast about New England, produced by Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford. 

Also joining us:

Melissa Birchard - Senior Attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation in Concord, NH.

Transcript:

This is a machine-generated transcript, and may contain errors.

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
What's next for hydropower in New England after the New Hampshire Supreme Court gave a firm and final no to Northern Pass? The project was supposed to bring Canadian hydro power down through New Hampshire and onto the New England grid, but transmission proved an insurmountable obstacle. Communities along the pipeline's pathway. And so after almost 10 years of effort and a ton of money, the project's backer Eversource is evaluating its next steps. Eversource isn't alone. Other companies and New England states with hydropower hopes are looking at what happened in New Hampshire and whether they need to adjust their own plans today in exchange. Regional ripples from the Northern Pass failure. What's next for the Granite State and its neighbors? Let's hear from you now. Our e-mail exchange at nhpr.org once again exchange at nhpr.org. Use Facebook or Twitter at an HP exchange or give us a call 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7.

Laura Knoy:
Joining us from Connecticut is John DANKOSKY. He's executive editor of the New England News Collaborative and host of Next, a weekly radio show and podcast about New England produced by Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford. And John, welcome back. Nice to have you.

John Dankosky:
Good to be here, Laura.

Laura Knoy:
Also with us in studio, Sam Evans-Brown, host of NHPR's Outside/In, and longtime environment reporter. By the way, you can check out Sam's award winning series on hydro power called Power Lines on our Web site and HP Talks Slash Exchange. And Sam, thank you so much. You're always helping us out. We appreciate it.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Happy to be here.

Laura Knoy:
So how surprising was this, Sam, that the state Supreme Court unanimously rejected northern passes appeal?

Sam Evans-Brown:
I think it depends whose chair you're sitting in.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Certainly the developer Eversource was quite surprised. I think they're they're rather accustomed to getting their projects approved. And in fact, most projects that go through the site evaluation committee have been approved. There's only been one previously that's been rejected, which was a wind farm a number of years ago. And actually it managed to get you reconfigured and then and then accepted. So ultimately it still did get through. So.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So there have been very few projects that have been denied by the site evaluation committee. But then the question is, once the denial has come, how likely is it that the state Supreme Court will overturn that denial? And I think that most, most watchers of administrative law would tell you that the Supreme Court is is very unlikely to step in, in a matter where where you have, you know, allegedly expert bureaucrats making a decision on a complicated subject matter, that the only way that you can get it overturned is if it's if they've failed to do their duty as a matter of law, not as a matter of, you know, on the merits of the project.

Laura Knoy:
And so so when you looked at at northern passes argument, they were essentially arguing that that that on the merits, they should have been accepted. And the Supreme Court unanimously said, we don't want to go there. So were you surprised you're someone who's been following Northern Pass for a long time?

Sam Evans-Brown:
Well (laughs) the funny question, because I think if you were to have pinned me down in the corner of a bar where it where no one could have heard me, I might have given my opinion on the matter before the decision. I mean, I I I personally thought that it was unlikely that the Supreme Court was going to overturn overturn the subject matter experts on the site evaluation committee. But you never know. I mean, the Supreme Court, like courts generally are kind of a wild card. And and pre deciding, you know, trying to trying to prejudge what they're going to do is dangerous territory. So I will say, no, I wasn't surprised, but I probably would have told you that before the court beforehand.

Laura Knoy:
Well, John, from a New England perspective, were you surprised or what are people around the region saying about this decision? It's got ripple effects, which we're going to talk about.

John Dankosky:
Well, yeah, I think that the main thing for us watching from outside of New Hampshire, not understanding the internal politics of New Hampshire or the Supreme Court decision. I think we see a project that had been doomed for quite some time because of of a lack of popular opinion. What I was thinking back about projects that I've seen go like Northern Pass, I think about the Broadwater Project in Long Island Sound. It was a liquefied natural gas terminal that was proposed to sit between New York and Connecticut. It encountered enormous opposition from grassroots groups and increasingly from politicians. And and after a while, it just never stood a chance.

John Dankosky:
I know Sam has followed closely some of the developments of offshore wind over the course of the last couple of decades and the Cape Wind project, which had so much promise for the possibility of being the first big offshore wind farm in America. But he just couldn't get past the enormous political and personal opposition of people who lived there. And so from from the outside. I see Northern Pass as something that for a long time seems to have been doomed, not by. And a legal reason, not by any procedural reason, but by the fact that seemingly a large number of people in that state just didn't want it to happen.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and let's look back just briefly, gentlemen, about why this project failed after almost 10 years. It seems unbelievable to even say that lots of business support, lots of union support, tons of money. What happens, Sam? Well, so.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So it very quickly generated a grassroots backlash in the communities that were going to play host to the project. And if you think back to the announcement, I was as you read this the other day. So so this project was announced this spring that I began as a reporter at any sparks surpasses spring of, I think 2010, 2011, 2011. OK. I could be wrong about that. I mean, the memory fades. Right. But but Governor Lynch, who who was this sort of you know, he was the type of governor who rarely took positions on controversial items was was at the announcement of this this grand project that was going to, you know, mean development and tax revenue for the city of Franklin. That was going to host the transit, the terminal where it was the power switched from DC to AC. And there was this grand, grand announcement. And then as soon as the backlash came, he sort of melted into the wallpaper right here. He was never seen supporting the project again. And I think that just that just goes to show you that when it was imagined, it was it thought it was thought to be something that's just going to sail through.

Sam Evans-Brown:
But very quickly, especially in the north country, opponents emerged. You know, the Society for the protection of New Hampshire forests marshaled large amounts of money to sort of purchase a blockade of conserved land that required Northern Pass to reconfigure its route. You know, that became it became clear that there were concerns about whether the White Mountain National Forest was going to approve the project. And they essentially had a veto over whether or not it was going to get built.

Sam Evans-Brown:
And so the route had to be reconfigured again. And so it really just dragged out. And I think the amount of time that that the the opponents were able to buy meant that the project just sort of languished and the opposition was able to grow and grow and cement itself. It even you know, if you look at the site evaluation committee from the point where the project was proposed to win, it was considered the law governing the site evaluation committee was rewritten in head and span. So so the ground sort of shifted underneath the developers because the project sat for so long. So it just it just dragged out.

Laura Knoy:
We asked Eversource to join us today, but given the tornado on Cape Cod, they said they were in emergency mode. They were unable to be with us. However, just after the Supreme Court's decision late last week. Any campers, any real peak, got ever saw spokesman William Hinkle on the phone.

News clip:
Northern Pass was the most advanced project to bring abundant, low cost clean energy into the region. And, you know, that's an unfortunate setback to our efforts to advance affordable, clean energy in the state.

Laura Knoy:
We also reached out to the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association president Jim Roach sent us this statement. And I won't read the whole thing, but there's a couple points in here that I'd like to run by you gentlemen. Jim Roach says the New Hampshire Supreme Court's decision is both surprising and unfortunate. As nonprofit electric grid regulator ISO New England warned last year, the region's power system will soon be unable to meet electricity demand and maintain reliability without some degree of emergency actions. And Mr Roach mentions rolling blackouts, controlled outages. Quoting ISO there, he says that would be devastating not just to residential customers, but employers, health care providers, manufacturers, hotels, banks and all manner of commerce. There is no question, he says, that green options such as wind and solar should be part of our energy mix. But their volatility and high cost mean that we need more 24/7 baseload energy in the short term. And Northern Pass, Roach says, was exactly that. So, Sam, to you first. But, John, jump in. Yes, there was this grassroots opposition. We all remember the rallies and the orange T-shirts. And I go up to the north country a lot and the signs are still there. But there was considerable support also for this project.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Yes.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Specifically from any any large power consumer in New England is is concerned about the the energy prices in the state. I mean, we do have New England has when you look at retail power costs, we have we have some of the highest in the nation. I mean, we're typically in the northeast behind only Alaska and Hawaii in terms of in terms of energy rates in the United States. And so so anything that will depress those those rates is tends to get support from the business community. The the question then becomes, you know, how why was it that they weren't able to to get this project through? And when you look at the Supreme Court decision, essentially, what the. Sources say is that is that Northern Pass? Just did a bad job of presenting its case, so they they said the experts weren't convincing that that the that the record the regulators were unable to determine from the record whether or not there was going to be an adverse impact. So they didn't even know how to propose mitigation to deal with the impacts. And I think what this goes to show is, is that there's been a paradigm for a long time that utilities have have operated under where they.

Sam Evans-Brown:
They go behind closed doors. They decide what a project is going to look like. They announce what the project is going to be. And they they defend it to the hilt. And and that if your model just didn't work this time. Yeah. And I think I think that that there's a number of reasons why it doesn't work. I think, you know, community members are getting a little savvier in terms of navigating these projects and knowing how to how the levers of bureaucracies work in order to fight against them. I also think that the, you know, rules have been rewritten to be more inclusive of community support, community input. And so and so that model is is falling by the wayside. And if you look around the country, projects that are getting built are ones that that invite the public in earlier to provide feedback as to what they want to project to look by. Look, look like before the final, you know, route is announced. And, you know, the lawyers have to defend it in court.

Laura Knoy:
So we're really seeing a shift, Sam, in how, you know, companies. Present these projects because people feel like they deserve to have a say, they deserve some political power in this process. Go ahead, John.

John Dankosky:
No, I also just jump in and say that I think part of the reason the message is muddled is that if a project like Northern Pass was simply meant to solve our energy needs to to drive down costs for businesses in New Hampshire specifically, then that would be a message that maybe more people could get behind, but that a large reason why this was being built was to get power, not to New Hampshire businesses and New Hampshire residents, but to get power to the power hungry folks in the growing greater Boston area of of Massachusetts.

John Dankosky:
And the real reason that Massachusetts stepped in and wanted to buy power in this way is because they're trying to deal with the greenhouse gas problem. So it's as though we are trying to solve a lot of problems at once with a project like this, drive down costs, make sure the peak demand is met and also solve for some of our renewable energy needs. And with all those competing interests in some ways happening at the same time, I don't know. Sam and it feels as though it's hard to message something in exactly the way that's going to get a large constituency behind it.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and you're raising something really interesting that I want to ask you about, John. This sort of north south tension, a lot of times Northern Pass opponents said, why should New Hampshire be, you know, the electrical cord for people in Connecticut, in Massachusetts, to crank the air conditioner? So there was that kind of tension about is this power really for us?

John Dankosky:
Yeah. The states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island over the course of the last few years have put out a number of proposals trying to procure energy from different sources. And that energy is often going to come from places not sited in those three states. It's more cost efficient, they say, to find a way to get power down from Hydro Quebec, where, as Sam well knows, there's an awful lot of excess power or to buy power from offshore wind farms or new wind farms that are up in the northern parts of New England that have a lot more available wind energy.

John Dankosky:
Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are growing in their power consumption. And I think that that's something that's that's not going to stop anytime soon. The state where I live has almost no ability to generate renewable energy itself. It's a very congested state. Not a lot of places to put solar arrays, hardly any available wind energy. We're not going to put any turbines in in Long Island Sound. And so Connecticut's going to be looking elsewhere for its power, which includes how we're going to get power down from Hydro Quebec, how we're going to get natural gas in from Pennsylvania, how we're going to find energy other ways.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I want to ask both of you what Hydro Quebec does now, because my understanding is it has excess power. But let's go to our listeners as well. Today on The Exchange, we're talking about the defeat of Northern Pass just last week. What happened and what's next for hydropower in New England? There are ripple effects across the region from this rejection by New Hampshire's state supreme Court.

Laura Knoy:
. John, let's go to the phones. And Tim is calling from Portsmouth. Hi, Tim. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Oh, good morning, Laura. And thanks for taking my call. Sure. So I'm actually called because the last time you discussed the Northern Pass, a little background. I'm 67. I've lived in New Hampshire all my life. I live in Mount Vernon, although I'm calling from Portsmouth today because I work over here in Portsmouth, because that's where the money is. In any event, I am a certified tree hugger. There are actual photographs of me hugging trees.

Caller:
Number one.

Caller:
Number two, my wife and I spent a tremendous amount of time in the woods of New Hampshire. I am fond of trees and I am fond of the woods in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
So how about Northern Pass?

Caller:
Tim, I am fond of any type of energy that you create not created by burning fossil fuels. So I have to tell you, I just see a massive hypocrisy on the part of every environmentalist I know about Northern Pass because I don't care if the power goes to Connecticut or wherever the power goes. It's a regional power grid and the power goes wherever it's needed. We're all in this ship together. And right now, we're burning our ship. We're burning our environment. We're burning our planet. And anytime we can avoid a little bit of the burning. That's a good thing in my book and sentiment about it.

Laura Knoy:
I thank you for calling. Yeah,.

Caller:
I'm so Disappointed.

Laura Knoy:
Send us a picture by email if you hugging a tree because I would love to see Heath to be really fun. And I appreciate.

Laura Knoy:
His comment on a regional power grid. But what about his criticism, Sam Evans-Brown, about environmental groups and their role in this? And by the way, after a break, we're going to talk to the Conservation Law Foundation.

Laura Knoy:
But go ahead. What role did environmental groups play?

Sam Evans-Brown:
So it'll be interesting to hear from the Conservation Law Foundation, because I think that they in particular are a group that sort of exemplifies how this is a complicated path for them to walk, because CnF opposed this project and came out with some. Some, I would say, over the top rhetoric in particular about the greenhouse gas emissions of of hydropower reservoirs in Quebec, for instance, that perhaps mischaracterized the science, I'd say early on.

Sam Evans-Brown:
But now that there's another project in Maine that they like the look of a little better, they're supporting that project. And so I have heard there certainly are folks who are in the environmental movement who don't like don't like large scale hydropower. They don't like the idea of these huge transmission lines connecting us to remote power sources.

Sam Evans-Brown:
But there are many who who would say, listen, I'm okay with connecting to hydrocarbons, especially if they're just using surplus power on existing dams, which Hydro Quebec argues is somewhat the case. But I just didn't like the root of this exact powerline and that there are less impactful routes for a powerline. So so you get the full spectrum right. You get the folks who hate hydro in any way, shape or form should not support it ever, ever. All right. You get the folks who who think like no matter what the cost, climate change is too serious. I will support this project. Land him, and then you get the qualified. Yes. From folks like the Conservation Law Foundation who just say, I didn't like the route of this line. All right. There's a lot more to talk about in just a moment.

Laura Knoy:
And as I said, we will be talking to the Conservation Law Foundation more after a short break. This is The Exchange on NH PR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, The defeat of Northern Pass, what happened and what it means for other hydropower projects in New England. Let's hear from you. Call in 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Send us an email exchange at an HP morgue or use Facebook or Twitter at an HP exchange one more time that no one. 889 2 6 4 7 7. My guest for the hour, John DANKOSKY, executive editor of the New England News Collaborative and host of next, a weekly radio show and podcast about New England.

Laura Knoy:
And with me in studio, Sam Evans-Brown, host of NHPR's podcast Outside/in a longtime environment reporter. And gentlemen, back to our listeners. And here's an email from Kara in New London who says, I'm confused. I did a paper on Northern Pass for a class a couple of years ago at the time. I believe it was the U.S. Department of Energy that had charts and data you could pull on energy use in every state. I thought we exported energy to other states already. So how could bringing more power in possibly lower costs? That doesn't seem like the excuse holds water. And Kara, thank you so much for the e-mail and Sam and John, Sam, you first. This is an important point because our earlier caller, Tim, was right. We are operating under a regional power grid here in New England. But I don't know if people really understand what that means. Yeah.

Sam Evans-Brown:
So the way the way that the the markets are set up, it's sort of delegated down from the federal level. And in each market is is established in in a regional context. And in New England, ISO, New England is the one is the organization, the independent system operator of New England is the organization that operates the markets and that includes all of the New England states. So so the idea that New Hampshire generates more electricity than it uses doesn't really matter because it's selling into this New England market and it's like putting water into a bathtub. Yeah, exactly. And so so the fact that that New Hampshire generates more than it uses really, really has very minimal effect on on the power prices in New Hampshire itself, because those prices are created regionally in this regional market.

Laura Knoy:
So why is that point so often made? You know, we were talking with John earlier about how people said why should we approve Northern Pass? It's just an electric cord going down to Massachusetts in Connecticut. Why is this state by state argument made when the power is produced regionally?

Sam Evans-Brown:
Really it Just scores rhetorical points. I mean, it doesn't it? But it sounds good. And also, it it there is a certain truth that there are there are regions that have more demand and there are reasons that have there states that have more supply that is not in of itself untrue. It's it's just sort of beside the point. So the question is, OK, so given the market realities that prices are formed at this regional level, the question is then what do you do with that information? And it really comes down to if you want to drive down costs, you have to bring in more supply. And that is what that is what a project like Northern Pass would do now. Now it is just a single project. Right. It was it was one gigawatt in a system that uses at its peak 28 gigawatts. So the idea that it would have a massive effect on power prices by bringing in, you know, 1 gigawatt of marginally lower lower price supply is you know, is is not quite true. It would have it would have a small effect on regional power prices. So so the the the the writer is writer inner is in fact, both sort of right and wrong. That that, you know, it wouldn't have a huge effect, but it would have some effect.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and John, so we talked about this a little bit before the break. What does Hydro Quebec do now with the excess power that it says it still has?

John Dankosky:
Well, one of the things that they're going to try to do, at least to get it to Massachusetts is send it down through Maine. Central Maine Power has had a project going. Not for quite as long as northern parts are called New England Clean Energy Connect. And it would run about 150 miles down from the border with Canada down to Lewiston, Lewiston, where would hook up with the rest of the energy grid. And it's going to go through much like it would have in New Hampshire, an environmentally sensitive wooded area. I think it's it's fair to say a few things. This project from the outset was going to be a less less costly endeavor than Northern Pass.

John Dankosky:
It also had more of the necessary permitting in place already by the time Massachusetts decided to move from Northern Pass over to this main project to get its power. So it had those things going forward. As you said before, some environmentalists at least have lined up behind this project, saying that this is actually a good solution as opposed to CLF and others ending up on the other side of the ledger for four Northern Pass. So right now, the CMP project is is moving forward and it's starting to Laura, I think, encounters some of the same types of pushback. The. What's happening in New Hampshire? But it's just not coming from, let's just say, as many official sources as you had all lining up against against the project in your state.

Laura Knoy:
CMP, again, is central Maine Power, right, John?

John Dankosky:
Yes, Central Maine Power. And so, you know, another piece of this, which is I think not unimportant, is that central Maine Power is a local power company for the state of Maine. Eversource is is a big multi-state utility which serves customers in. In my state, in Connecticut and in Massachusetts. In New Hampshire, it has a whole lot of political connections. And I think it's fair to say that some people were skeptical of the political connections that it had with the state house in in New Hampshire and the statehouse in Boston. And how wired up Eversource was to try to get their project through central Maine Power is it is a main concern. And so they're trying to at least put forward the notion that this is a project that will benefit Maine and Mainers along the way and not just be that extension cord that gets the power down to Boston.

Laura Knoy:
So, Sam, same question. What is Hydro Quebec do now?

Sam Evans-Brown:
Yes. So Hydro Quebec has said... so.

Sam Evans-Brown:
They're still damming rivers up in Quebec currently as we speak. The Romaine River, which is, you know, a good 13 hour drive north of north east of Montreal, is is in process of being dammed. They're putting up four new power stations on that river. Three are completed. One is underway. So, though, and in addition to those those new dams that are going up, they already have a surplus there.

Laura Knoy:
So they see a future in this.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Yeah.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Well, this is if you if you look at the history of hydrocarbons. It is it a you know, it's it's owned by the province. The province of Quebec has 100 percent of the share of the company. And it was created explicitly to generate surplus power to sell to at. Out of, you know, other regions. New York City was has always been a big a big customer for them and New England as well. And so that's a very explicit strategy. They're actually trying to double their revenue over the next 15 years and very explicitly in their plan. It says exports is a big way of how we're going to do this. So they they envision building this powerline and probably another two. So there's another line being built down right now that is going underwater. This is a buried line going to New York City. It's called the Champlain Hudson Express. They're building that. In theory, if it gets through regulators in Maine, they'll build the line through Maine. But but they the it's a little hard to know because the because hydrophobic is a bit of a black box. We don't really have we don't know what the reservoir levels are. We don't know how many gallons of water behind the dam, because that's sort of market sensitive information.

Sam Evans-Brown:
But they have said that they have enough surplus to power three transmission lines. So there's there there could be another powerline that gets built to New Englander, to New York in order to satisfy this long term plan of hydro back, of doubling their revenue by selling surplus to the, you know, the expensive power markets of the Northeast.

Laura Knoy:
Well, there's a lot more about Hydro Quebec, how it works, the history in Sam's excellent award winning series called Powerline. We've got a link on our Web site, if you haven't heard it. And HP Jorge's slash exchange. Gentlemen, I want to bring another voice into our conversation now. Melissa Birchard is with us, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation in Concord. And Melissa, welcome. Thank you for being with us.

Melissa Birchard:
Thank you for inviting me.

Laura Knoy:
So what do you think the rejection of Northern Pass here in New Hampshire says about hydro powers future in New Hampshire?

Melissa Birchard:
Honestly hydropower has a big future in the region. It's already played a significant role in the region and will continue to play a significant role in the region, as you guys have discussed already on the show. The region have a shared power grid and New Hampshire relies on that shared power grid. In terms of what projects can be developed in New Hampshire, transmission developing companies need to take a close look at their approach to bringing forward projects. And I think Sam Evans- Brown got it right when he talked earlier about the fact that project developers are starting to learn the lesson that you don't come into a community, you don't come into New Hampshire and wave your hands around and make loud noises like The Wizard of Oz, because if you do that, we're going to we're going to pull back that screen and we're going to see that behind the handwaving is a poorly considered project that's just not honest about it. Impact. And anytime you have one of these large hydro electric projects that is accompanied by a large transmission line, it's going to have a significant impact on habitat, on the environment, on communities. You can't avoid that, which you need to do is to be honest about it. So work with communities and to mitigate the impact.

Laura Knoy:
So your problem wasn't so much with hydro itself. When I say you, I mean CLF, Melissa, it was more the way this project was mapped out.

Melissa Birchard:
Yeah. What Sam Evans-Brown mentioned a little bit earlier that CLF talked about the environmental impacts of the Northern Pass project early on and what Northern House was doing. Whatever source the northern parts were doing early on was nice. You know, there are no impacts. This is all perfect. This is all green. And that's really a line they stuck with stuck with throughout the project development process. And and so when it when the project got to the site evaluation committee, the site evaluation committee said that's just not realistic. That's just not right. You've provided inadequate evidence because you're sticking to this line that there really aren't any impacts. How can we work with that? And that's what New Hampshire community said, too. How can we work with a project developer who's just not going to be honest and to alleviate the impacts? That's really one of the major issues with Northern Pass. This project would have had really significant impacts on habitat. The environment, communities and project developers like Eversource and northern parks need to be better partners if they're close to be successful.

Laura Knoy:
ClF does support the project in Maine that John DANKOSKY mentioned earlier. Is that correct, Melissa?

Melissa Birchard:
I should put a little bit of clarity on that. We have reached a settlement specifically around the energy issues that were under review at the Maine Public Utilities Commission. But there are still issues under review at other agencies, including the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. And so unlike in New Hampshire, where there's really a one stop shop for permitting for the site and construction permit that a project developer needs, we have here in New Hampshire, we have that site evaluation committee as a one stop shop and to bundle things together. And in Maine, I do think a little bit differently.

Melissa Birchard:
Every state does things a little bit differently. In Maine, they have a couple of different processes. And at the Public Utilities Commission, we reached a settlement to support some of the the terms that are put forward there. And NECEC specifically put forward a number of energy terms that were great, including a fund for heat pumps and electric vehicle funds, agreeing to push forward innovative energy solutions like non wires alternative and agreeing to work with stakeholders on decarbonisation. This is a huge issue in the region. Second, invasion is to address to address climate change right now at the Department of Environmental Protection. The feel of actually has major concerns and have gone on the record saying that without additional mitigating conditions, the environmental permit shouldn't be issued.

Laura Knoy:
So it's not correct then. And I was just looking at some of the main, you know, the press in Maine this morning and yesterday. So it's not entirely correct, Melissa, to say that CLF supports the main project while it opposed the Northern Pass project in New Hampshire.

Melissa Birchard:
That's right. It's more subtle than that. As I said here in Hampshire, the FCC bundled everything together. In Maine, it's a little bit different. There's some separate permanent processes and we've supported the project. And in some of those processes and we're still questioning in other processes, we believe that any large hydro and large transmission project needs to appropriately mitigate its impacts. And we want to see more of that before we could support a project like the any project in Maine.

Laura Knoy:
And again, NECEC. is just remind us what that is since we're here in New Hampshire.

Melissa Birchard:
That is the New England Clean Energy Connect project, which would go through Maine. That's one hundred and fifty mile line projects now.

Laura Knoy:
So hydro itself sounds like and please correct me if I'm wrong, Melissa Hydro itself. You've got some concerns about whether it's actually clean, for example, concerning Northern Pass. You said that tapping Hydro Quebec's electricity, quote, makes us reliant on big carbon emitting Canadian hydro power, undermining the market for New England's own homegrown zero carbon renewable energy. So in terms of Northern Pass, it's not perfect. In terms of Maine, not perfect either. But Maine is taking more mitigating greenhouse gas, mitigating efforts towards this project. Does that have. I got that right.

Melissa Birchard:
Look, climate change is a huge threat to the country, to the world, to the region. And we have to reduce our carbon impact, particularly in our energy resources and our transportation. So when you look at hydro electric power, you have to be honest that it's not it's not perfect for the climate. There are methane emissions that are so significant in some cases very significant. And in other cases and Hydro Quebec, you know, the fact that they didn't participate here in New Hampshire in a siting process gave us a lack of transparency into what their real impacts were. It was a real hurdle to get around the fact that Eversource wasn't being forthright and we didn't have Hydro Quebec there to talk to and let's get it some of these issues. But hydro electric power is not without impacts. It's not without greenhouse gas impacts. It's not without impacts on the habitat, the environment, everything that we have to be careful about, impacts on local and indigenous communities.

Laura Knoy:
And Sam talked about that in his series Powerline. I have to wrap up Melissa, and I do apologize. So but just to very quickly summarize, so it sounds like you've got some serious concerns about hydro, but you're not going to be opposed in every instance.

Melissa Birchard:
We believe that hydro electric power does play a role. We'd like to see a strong emphasis on the development of offshore wind in the region, on the development of solar and wind power storage to avoid fossil fuel plants. But we also believe that hydro hydro electric power can play an important role in that decarbonisation process that we all need to get on board with.

Laura Knoy:
Ok, Melissa, I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

Melissa Birchard:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
That's Melissa Birchard, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation. You're listening to The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. Today, the defeat of the Northern Pass hydropower project. What happened and what it means for other hydro proposals around New England. Let's hear from you. Call in 1 800 8 9 2 6 4 7 7. Or send us an email exchange at any sport. Org. I'm talking with John DANKOSKY. He's executive editor of the New England News Collaborative, host of Next, a weekly radio show and podcast about New England produced by Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford, where he joins us. And Sam Evans-Brown is with us in studio, host of NHPR's Podcast Outside/In and both of you. John, first, we talked about New Hampshire a lot. Obviously, we've talked about Vermont. We talked about Maine. I'd like to, John, talk a little bit more about Massachusetts. How much do you see? John, Massachusetts really driving this alternative energy train here in New England.

John Dankosky:
Well, Massachusetts has been trying to procure more renewable energy over the course of the last couple years. Governor Charlie Baker has been very strongly behind that move. They've partnered with Connecticut and Rhode Island on a couple of projects so far, and they've also made this request for hydropower from Quebec. That led us down the road of whether or not we're going to take that power from Northern Pass or from Maine. I think the other thing is that they very well could be the next leaders in wind power, offshore wind. And I think Sam knows this better than just about anybody is the next great frontier for renewable energy in America. There isn't any here in the States.

There's one very small wind farm off of BLOCK Island in Rhode Island, and that's about it. But in the next couple of years, we're gonna see a big vineyard wind project off of Martha's Vineyard and we're going to see more and more power, much of it being procured by the folks in Boston and Massachusetts and some of it being situated right off their coastline as well. The days of the Cape Wind project facing so much opposition in large part because of the way that it was rolled out. I think those days are past. And I think it's fair to say that Massachusetts is already a leader in clean energy in the nation and they're going to just be hungry for more in the next decade or so.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and speaking of hydropower in Massachusetts, Sam, I found it surprising how two or three years ago when Massachusetts said, hey, as part of our meeting, our clean energy goals, we're going to be buying power from Northern Pass and here in New Hampshire's big front page, Boston Globe. I remember thinking way, way, way, way. It hasn't been approved yet. So why did Massachusetts sort of check that box off when it was not checked off here, the Granite State?

Sam Evans-Brown:
Well, so so. I mean, they they essentially because of the way the law was written, they had to pick a project before any project was approved. ICE and at the time, Northern Pass was the project that was furthest along in the development cycle. Nothing had nothing had it? Well, that's not quite true. There was one project that had its permits. There was a project it would've gone under water through Vermont and then underground over to the town where the old nuclear plant had just gone off line. But that project was very expensive. And so Massachusetts didn't choose that one because it was it was too much money to build it. So so essentially, the way their process was, was laid out. They were picking between you know, they're actually 64 different projects that submitted to that to that whole that whole thing. Five of them were powerlines.

Sam Evans-Brown:
There are five competing powerlines, including Northern Pass and Northern Pass, one the bid. But essentially, they got the cart before the horse. Right. They thought that this project was going to get approved. But there was a provision in the law that if it didn't get approved, they they they were able to go back and choose backups, which is what they wound up doing.

Sam Evans-Brown:
I mean, but the thing is really interesting to me about about the Massachusetts connection is that when you look at the development cycle of Northern Pass, it it first started in the, you know, the late aughts. So 2008, Ian Bowles, who was the environment, the head of the environmental department in Massachusetts, had a meeting with Hydro-Quebec and higher ups at Eversource. And they said, hey, you want to reduce your carbon emissions? We've got a project for you. So even before this law that actually officially purchased and signed a contract with Hydro-Quebec was passed, this was a project that was intended to satisfy the policy goals of Massachusetts at the time. It was something called the Global Warming Solutions Act that mandated that Massachusetts lower its greenhouse gas emissions by by by 2025. And so I might have that year wrong. John can correct me. But but essentially, this has been there's been a project that's aimed been aimed at Massachusetts since the beginning.

Laura Knoy:
So it's really interesting. So Massachusetts has these very clear goals. They seem committed to them. They seem to want to include Hydro Sam to reach those goals. But the hydro has to go through Maine or New Hampshire or Vermont. And this kind of sets up this whole sort of.

Sam Evans-Brown:
North-south tension, again, that John mentioned, it's very interesting, and that's why the the law that was passed that created this competitive solicitation process for a project was establishes that Massachusetts started to realize that if we want one, these projects get built, we're going to have to pay for it. And so so when it became clear that Northern Pass was was on the rocks, that's when that law was passed there saying maybe we could give it a prod to get it to get it across the finish line.

Laura Knoy:
Here's an e-mail that came in from Wes in Deerfield, who says living in Deerfield and seeing the local potential impact. I was not for Northern Pass, West says. However, I do agree with the tree hugger comments broadcast earlier from our caller, Tim. This discussion brings up a much bigger issue than the hydro power in New England. We have the potential, West says, for generating electricity in equatorial regions and transporting it to energy poor regions. But we need the transportation lines for the energy we need to get past NIMBY. West says I think we should develop some kind of apples to apples system so we can compare the impact of energy projects with, for example, blowing the top off a mountain that seems to be a reference to coal. There needs to be public inclusion, West says, in a real way. And transmission lines can't necessarily be the cheapest, straightest route. Wes, thank you so much. And this brings up something, John, I'll turn to you. Critics of Northern Pass said, look, these big sort of hulking, old fashioned giant projects with big, obvious transmission lines are outdated. This is not where people are going nowadays. So, you know, goodbye to that type of project. What do you think?

John Dankosky:
Well, I think what was interesting when we hear the the tree hugger comments, we hear about the reasons why people might oppose something like this. It really does, unfortunately, to to the person who wrote in. It really does get down to two backyard issues. Your earlier caller talked about the tensions between environmentalists around all sorts of renewable sources of energy.

John Dankosky:
People want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They don't want to necessarily have the thing that does that in their backyard in Connecticut where I live. There are only two wind turbines in the entire state. And it's unlikely that while I am alive any more get put up because people just don't really want to see them. They don't want them anywhere near their backyard. Solar arrays have some of the same problem in big, long throw transmission lines coming down from Canada definitely have those issues, especially when they come through states that are environmentally sensitive like yours in places where people are making money off of natural beauty.

John Dankosky:
I do want to pick up, though, on something that we heard earlier, this idea of of decarbonisation as part of the overall plan that could come forward through the CMP, the Central Maine Power Project. They put a lot of money into this. And they they basically were all of branches to the environmentalists. 15 million dollars to subsidize residential heat pump purchases that will drive down overall energy consumption. Fifteen million dollars for electric vehicle charging station networks and rebates for electric car purchases. And also money that would go into improving transmission interconnections, which hopefully would would mean more headroom on the grid. Those are some ways that projects like this can reach out. I think to some of the folks who have concerns of for very good environmental reasons and say we want to make sure that there's renewable energy here and we want to we want to help do some other things that that you might care about. At the same time.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and that's a perfect segue way from my last question for you, Sam. Eversource has said it may, may reapply for another transmission project in New Hampshire just related to what John just said. How might Eversource approach the process differently if it goes forward again, given what happened Northern Pass?

Sam Evans-Brown:
Well, so so as as a threshold question, they can't just take the same project and submit the same application again. We saw that with with the Antrim wind farm in New Hampshire. There has to be some sort of change to the plan if they want to resubmit it. You know, this product's been denied. You have to change it. The question of how much do you have to change it is an open one. You know, Antrim wind eliminated a single wind turbine and made another one shorter and that was enough for it to resubmit and get approved. So so it could be relatively minor changes for them to resubmit the application. I hate think that if they made relatively minor changes and resubmitted, they would have, you know, a world of opposition that they'd be facing again, that there was a another project proposed in New Hampshire through the whole Massachusetts RFP process that by National Grid, a competitor to Eversource. So it was in New Hampshire, actually already has an HB D.C. powerline that is very similar to what Northern Pass would look like. It was built. So it has the infrastructure. Well, yeah. Well so it's got. One of these already. It was built in the late 1980s in response to the Arab oil embargoes and the oil crunch that resulted from that. And it goes all the way up to the James Bay in Quebec. It's you know, it's over 2000 miles long. And it goes like three miles from my house. And an national grid proposed moving that Powerline over a little bit and putting another one next to it, which I think you'd see a radically different response to a project like that. So the question is, if Eversource changes their project, how much will they change it and will it, you know, undermine the opposition?

Laura Knoy:
Well, it's a lot more we could have talked about. So we'll have to revisit this again. John, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

John Dankosky:
Happy to do it.

Laura Knoy:
And Sam Evans-Brown, thank you again.

Sam Evans-Brown:
Thank you, Laura.

Laura Knoy:
And be sure to check out Sam's award winning series on hydropower called Powerline on our Web site and nhpr.org slash exchange. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

The views expressed in this program are those of the individuals and not those of NH PR, its board of trustees or its underwriters. If you liked what you heard, spread the word. Give us a review on Apple podcasts to help other listeners find us. Thanks.