N.H. Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments On Northern Pass

May 15, 2019

Supreme Court arguments: Wilbur Glahn, an attorney for Eversource NH, is delivering his case Wednesday morning.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

After nearly a decade of heated debate, the Northern Pass project is being argued Wednesday at the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The state's highest court will spend nearly two hours – 50 minutes per side, longer than in most cases – hearing arguments and asking questions of attorneys in the appeal by developer Eversource.

Oral arguments will be livestreamed beginning at 10 a.m. 

(Follow NHPR's Annie Ropeik on Twitter as she covers the proceedings.)

Eversource wants a new hearing and a chance to revive its 200-mile, Canadian-hydro-powered transmission line proposal, which has been in the works since 2011 and first went up for state approval in 2015.

Eversource contends that the state site evaluation committee, or SEC, broke its own rules in how it evaluated the project over the course of dozens of days of adjudicative hearings and deliberations.

Those deliberations ended in a denial that came sooner than expected in early 2018, when a subcommittee of the SEC voted that Eversource had not met its burden of proof to show the project would “not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region.”

That’s one of four main criteria the SEC has to find large-scale energy projects can meet.

The SEC had agreed Northern Pass met another criterion, on financial stability, but had not considered two other criteria, on environmental impacts and the public good, before voting the project down based on the development test.

Eversource says this means they didn’t get fair consideration by the SEC. (Click to read the utility's brief and its answer to opposing briefs in the Supreme Court appeal.) 

But a senior assistant state attorney general and lawyers for environmental groups and neighbors on the project's route disagree. These opponents will all argue Wednesday against giving the project a new hearing, asserting that the SEC did do everything required by law in reviewing Northern Pass. 

(Click to read briefs in the case by the counsel for the public, senior assistant AG Christopher Aslin, as well as municipal intervenors and environmental advocates.)

The justices could side with Eversource and order the SEC to re-hear the project, from the start or a mid-point. The court could also set new precedents for legal interpretations of the SEC’s rules by pointing out specific procedural errors in their decision.

Or, the high court could find that the SEC’s denial was legally valid. This would likely mark the end of the road for the currently proposed version of Northern Pass, which has already cost Eversource millions of dollars to defend.

Either way, it'll likely take at least three to six months, or as much as a year, for the justices to rule on the case.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story underestimated the time it will take for the Supreme Court to rule in the case, and mistated that Eversource ratepayers have helped fund the Northern Pass campaign. In fact, it has been funded entirely by shareholders.