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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.

What's Happening With The Northern Pass Project?

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The decision on the hydro-electric transmission project, which would bring power from Canada to New England, has been postponed yet again. We review the goals of this $1.6 billion proposal and examine how the debate around it has changed since it was first presented in 2010.

Check out the most recent map of the Northern Pass Project from NorthernPass.us:

GUESTS: 

  • Sam Evans-Brown - Host of Outside/In, a podcast about the natural world and how we use it, from NHPR.
  • Martin Murray - Manager of Media Relations for Eversource Energy, and spokesperson for the Northern Pass Project.
  • Garry Rayno - Reporter for InDepthNH, where he has been covering Northern Pass. 
  • Howie Wemyss - General manager for the Mount Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center. 

Highlights from the conversation:

Sam Evans-Brown, host of Outside/In, describes the project:

It actually begins north of the border, sort of around Sherbrooke, Canada, and comes down through Quebec in the New Hampshire border. And then it starts coming into the North Country, where its all new right-of-way [paths where power lines are located]. There's about 40-some miles of new electric transmission right-of-way that the project developer has purchased and will be putting the power lines into.
There is then a quick eight-mile section of underground [construction] where it is sort of getting under a blockade of conservation land that opponents purchased early on in this whole process. And then it comes back above-ground, where it shoots down to the White Mountain National Forest, and goes underground again for 52 miles, before popping up and heading to Franklin, New Hampshire, where there'll be a terminal where power will transition from being direct current to alternating current.
And then we have alternating current lines that go from Franklin to Deerfield, New Hampshire, another 34 miles. And Deerfield, New Hampshire is where this power is dispersed on the New England grid.

Garry Rayno, of InDepthNH, discusses the economics:

Well, you go back to 2010, when it was first proposed, and think back to those times: natural gas prices were very high, and New England is very dependent on natural for its electricity. Some people will say it's too dependent...
With Hydro-Quebec [which is where the power will come from], the investment is all up front. Once the project is built, and so on, you don't have to keep buying fuel for it because you have water, so you have a more stable price. And that was quite a bit lower than what you had [with] natural gas prices.
Well, since that time, natural gas prices have come way down, and they look to be stabilized for quiet some time now. And now, [Northern Pass] is not quite so economically a slam dunk. It's a little more dicey.

Martin Murray, spokesperson for the Northern Pass Project, responds to a listener concern that this project will not benefit taxpayers:

I think... these concerns are rooted in what I really believe is some bad information, and some misrepresentation about what the project is, and what it is not...
You have to look at this from a regional perspective. The fact is, any new source of energy we ignore is something else that goes into the New England regional power pool, [and] will have an impact on what the price of the power in the power pool will be. That impacts every single customer in New England... It will bring down the wholesale cost of energy.

Listener Jack Savage, of the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests, says that public input at the SEC [Site Evaluation Committee] has been "overwhelmingly opposed to Northern Pass...[which] raises the question as to whether it should be approved with such public opposition."

Murray says that this opposition does not represent many people in New Hampshire:

Certainly there are people that would rather this project not exist at all. Others believe that we ought to be buried underground. Others believe in and do support it as we have proposed. And I don't think that should be diminished, because there are a large number of folks that do support this project as proposed. They may not be as vocal. They may not be as involved, and you can draw your own conclusions about why those who might support the project might not be as vocal as those who oppose it...
We believe we have a very good case that we've made, and we're looking forward actually to the next six months, because we will be able to talk to some of those interveners who oppose the project.

General Manager for Mount Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails, Howie Wemyss, says that there are many reasons to oppose the project:

I've been running the Auto Road for 30 years now, and I think I have a fairly decent feeling of what people are looking for, and they come to Northern New Hampshire for tourism... I really hope [Northern Pass] doesn't go forward frankly in any scenario, but especially in the aerial scenario. But [Martin Murray] made a statement a couple of times that basically traffic or construction delays are just part of the traveling experience and have no impact on tourism. That's absurd, to put it mildly...
If this line is going to come down here at all, it needs to buried in its entirety.

Wemyss responds to Southern Tier manufacturing companies that want the lower energy prices that will come with Northern Pass:

I understand their concern, and we pay the same high rate for electricity up here in our much smaller businesses...We've attacked it on an individual basis, with going with renewable power in a couple of different sources here on our campus at the Mount Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails.
And I know a lot of manufacturers perhaps perceive that they simply can't do that. But I wish that some of these larger utilities and fossil fuel companies would get a little more involved in renewable energy because clearly it's the future. And if they jump on the bandwagon new, we could be manufacturing solar panels here in New Hampshire, instead of buying them from Canada, or worse, China.

Related Reading:

Read complete Northern Pass coverage since 2010 from NHPR.

Find InDepthNH's complete Northern Pass coverage here

Sam Evan's-Brown wrote about Northern Pass in 2014 for NH Magazine. His article discusses other similar power project proposals in New Hampshire. 

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