Northern Pass

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 Controversy

Northern Pass has proved an incredibly controversial issue in New Hampshire, especially in the North Country
Credit Chris Jensen / NHPR

The 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 routes
Credit Chris Jensen / NHPR

Northern 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 Route

In 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 Mountains

Credit Courtesy: Northern Pass

 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 Committee

The 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.

Denied

On 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. 

Karla Cinquanta

Jane Difley, the first female president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, is retiring on October 1, 2019, after 22 years. As a licensed forester, she has seen forest management evolve since she was a Forest Society intern in the 1970s. Her conservation leadership of the state's scenic landscapes includes establishing and getting dedicated funding for L-CHIP, as well as playing a role in the protection of the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters, the Balsams, and Mount Major. The Forest Society was also a leader in the fight against the Northern Pass transmission pipeline.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Eversource has officially pulled the plug on the Northern Pass transmission line.

The utility filed a notice with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission late Thursday, a spokesman says, “reflecting our conclusion that Northern Pass has unfortunately been brought to an end.”

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. 

Chris Jensen, NHPR

The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Friday dealt what may be the final blow to the Northern Pass transmission line.

Weekly N.H. News Roundup: July 19, 2019

Jul 19, 2019

The governor signs a bill into law to protect New Hampshire children from discrimination at school. He also signed into law a bill requiring public schools to provide tampons or pads in all gender neutral and female restrooms. We discuss the controversy in Newington over Pride Month lawn signs. And the Supreme Court releases its decision on the Northern Pass appeal of the denial of its $1.6 billion high-transmission power line project.

GUESTS: 

Weekly N.H. News Roundup: May 17, 2019

May 16, 2019

Governor Sununu makes it official, he's running for a third term - ending speculation that he would challenge Senator Jeanne Shaheen.  After nearly a decade of debate, the Northern Pass project presents oral arguments in its appeal to the state Supreme Court.  And it took a second try to live free and fly - the red-tailed hawk is one step closer to being the N.H. state mascot.

GUESTS:

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

The New Hampshire Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Eversource's bid to revive its Northern Pass transmission line.

The justices are considering whether the proposal – a nearly 200-mile high-voltage power line to bring Canadian hydropower through the White Mountains to New England – should get a new hearing with the state Site Evaluation Committee, or SEC.

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.

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has set oral arguments in the fight over the Northern Pass transmission line for this May.

Eversource is appealing regulators’ denial last year of the Northern Pass project -- a 200-mile power line that would bring Canadian hydropower through the White Mountains to New England.

The case goes before the state’s highest court on May 15.

Todd Bookman / NHPR

The state's highest court will soon decide whether to hear arguments in the fight over the Northern Pass transmission line.

Thursday was a key deadline in the project's appeal to the state Supreme Court. Opponents of the proposal have now filed all their briefs in the case.

The filings are from stakeholders like the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and towns along the power line's nearly-200-mile proposed route through the White Mountains into Central New Hampshire.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

State regulators are in final talks about whether to approve a new transmission line on the Seacoast.

After two days of deliberations, the Site Evaluation Committee has agreed that the Seacoast Reliability Project meets some of the criteria required by state law.

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has accepted Eversource’s appeal of the state’s rejection of its Northern Pass project.

The court has not yet scheduled the oral argument.

Chris Jensen / NHPR

Several groups are asking the state Supreme Court to uphold regulators' denial of the Northern Pass project.

Towns and nonprofits that oppose the transmission line proposal filed their motions with the high court Thursday.

(Read one of the motions, filed by the McKenna's Purchase development that abuts the project route.)

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Eversource has filed an appeal with the New Hampshire Supreme Court, asking them to overturn the rejection of the Northern Pass power line proposal. The filing queues up the next phase of the years-long battle over the project. (Read the full appeal text below.)

The long-awaited appeal argues that the state Site Evaluation Committee, or SEC, broke its own rules in how it judged Northern Pass. 

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

 

A New Hampshire museum is looking to collect Northern Pass-related hats, T-shirts, videos, and other items to educate future generations about grassroots opposition to the energy project.

The Caledonian Record reports the Sugar Hill Historical Museum wants the items for its "Northern Pass Opposition Archives." Project opponent Susan Schibanoff, of Easton, thought of the archives as she researched Easton's 1970s battle against the ultimately defeated proposal for a four-lane highway through Franconia Notch and said she found little on it.

Fred Bever / Maine Public

By Fred Bever, Maine Public

 

While the Trump administration is working to prop up coal-fired power plants, many states are on the hunt for renewable energy. In New England, though, a plan by Massachusetts to tap into Canada's vast, low-polluting hydroelectric dam system is drawing fire.

 

Flikr Creative Commons / Claudio Schwarz

New Hampshire's largest utility hopes regulators will revisit two big energy proposals – one dealing with natural gas and the other with Northern Pass – in the wake of a recent state Supreme Court decision.

The utility's filings this week seek to revive two 2016 cases where the Public Utilities Commission applied a view of the state law restructuring the electric industry that the Supreme Court overturned in May.

Weekly N.H. News Roundup: May 25, 2018

May 25, 2018

We dig into the results of the legislative session as it winds up, and tally up Governor Sununu's wins and losses.  Eversource gets permission to invest in gas pipelines to supply electricity - NHPR's Annie Ropeik considers ramifications for future efforts to revive Northern Pass. And the town of Hampstead decides to cut back on homework.  NHPR's political reporter Lauren Chooljian will be in for her first stint as substitute host.  

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

State regulators voted unanimously Thursday not to give Eversource a new hearing for its Northern Pass power line proposal.

That means the case, which has stretched for nearly a decade, will likely go before the New Hampshire Supreme Court. 

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

The Northern Pass power line proposal returns before state regulators Thursday. NHPR's Annie Ropeik has more on what a recent court ruling could mean for the project's appeal.


Consumer Energy / Flicker CC

The New Hampshire Supreme Court says electric utilities like Eversource should be allowed to invest in natural gas pipelines.

Tuesday’s ruling reverses a 2016 order by the state Public Utilities Commission.

Chris Jensen / NHPR

Opponents of the Northern Pass power project are pushing back on developer Eversource’s request for a new hearing before state regulators.

The utility has argued the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee didn’t give the embattled power line proposal its due consideration before denying it a building permit earlier this year.

They want the SEC to set a new hearing and consider more specific conditions that could green-light the project.

File photo

Eversource has filed a new version of its request for a new hearing on its proposed Northern Pass transmission line.

The state Site Evaluation Committee, or SEC, is already scheduled to discuss the utility's appeal on May 24.

But the committee hadn't yet put out its formal, written denial of the project the first time Eversource made that request, in February.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Supporters of Eversource’s Northern Pass transmission line want to remove two evaluators from the appeal process for the project’s state permit.

A group of business and union stakeholders made the request to the state Site Evaluation Committee this week.

The business group wants Public Utilities Commission member Kathryn Bailey and public representative Patricia Weathersby to recuse themselves from future Northern Pass proceedings at the SEC.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

The Northern Pass project will go back before the state Site Evaluation Committee next month.

The panel denied the huge power line proposal in February, and developer Eversource had asked it to reconsider.

Now that its written denial of the project is out, the committee has set a hearing on the issue for May 24 in Concord, with an extra day scheduled for June 4 if necessary.

Weekly N.H. News Roundup: March 30, 2018

Mar 29, 2018

There's been lots of talk about voter fraud in New Hampshire elections - we take a look at the reality found in the data behind the rhetoric.  Massachusetts drops the Northern Pass bid in favor of a Maine transmission line for a major energy project.  We get reaction from local veterans organizations on the firing of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. And, hope springs eternal as the the Red Sox open the 2018 baseball season.

Maine In, N.H. Out for Energy Contract with Massachusetts

Mar 28, 2018
Sam Evans-Brown /NHPR

Massachusetts energy officials have announced they're going with Plan B to bring Canadian hydroelectric power to the Bay State.

They've selected a back-up project that runs transmission lines through Maine, after New Hampshire state regulators refused to allow Plan A – the controversial Northern Pass project.

But the Maine project, known as New England Clean Energy Connect, also faces an uncertain future.

In Massachusetts, the announcement got kudos and criticism from those closely watching the state's selection of a massive clean energy project:

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

New Hampshire regulators on Monday put off a final decision on Eversource’s appeal for its Northern Pass permit.

The state Site Evaluation Committee, or SEC, voted to wait on next steps until the end of March, when they expect to put their earlier denial of the utility's proposed transmission line in writing.

That denial came in early February. Soon after, Eversource asked for the decision to be reconsidered.

On Monday, the SEC declined to take up any such request until after their written decision comes out.

Sunset Power Lines
Michael Kappel/Flickr CC

The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee meets Monday to discuss what to do about Eversource's appeal for its Northern Pass permit.

The meeting comes weeks after the SEC first rejected the proposed transmission line, which would run nearly 200 miles from Canada to New Hampshire.

Eversource's appeal argues that denial didn't give the Northern Pass plan its due consideration.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Eversource is asking New Hampshire regulators to reconsider their rejection of the Northern Pass project.

The utility filed a motion Wednesday with the state Site Evaluation Committee, or SEC. It wants the committee’s Feb. 1 denial of the project thrown out and the case re-heard. Eversource argues the SEC didn’t do its required diligence in discussing all the criteria the project had to meet to get a permit. 

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