A couple weeks ago the latest version of the Northern Pass route through New Hampshire was announced. It's another step in the right direction.
The new proposal, the "NH Forward Plan", proposes to reduce the capacity of the transmission line from 1200 megawatts down to 1000 megawatts. By doing this, Northern Pass will be able to lower tower heights by 10-15 feet for that part of the project that remains on overhead towers.
The new plan buries an additional 52 miles of transmission line from Bethlehem to Ashland. When combined with the eight miles buried in Clarksville and Stewartstown, it will make a total of 60 buried miles of transmission line.
Burial will avoid towers and lines through the Rocks Estate, the White Mountain National Forest, and the towns of Sugar Hill, Easton, Woodstock, Lincoln, Thornton, Campton, and Holderness. It will also eliminate towers and lines on Interstate 93 where the towers would have been very visible from Lincoln to Ashland.
The "NH Forward Plan" offers a purchase power agreement between Hydro Quebec and Eversource, guaranteeing that 10 percent of the Hydro Quebec power remains in New Hampshire for use by New Hampshire consumers.
There's also a $200 million "NH Forward Fund" to invest in economic development projects in New Hampshire, including the upgrade of the existing Coos Loop electric transmission system (that would allow Eversource to partner with Wagner Forest Management to build a new wind farm in two unincorporated towns in northern Coos County).
This plan is an improvement over the last plan and it is unfortunate that it took five years to get to this point. I am hoping that it doesn't take another five years for Northern Pass to bury the entire project.
I'm pleased to see that Northern Pass now agrees burying the line is affordable. The fact that they can still build the project for the same $1.4 billion construction cost that their most recent Northern Pass proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy was estimated to cost (with 179 of 187 miles above ground) proves that out.
It's nice the new plan provides $200 million for economic development, although it seems the dollars would be better spent on more burial that would avoid towers or new transmission line rights-of-way in Coos County. It seems foolish to destroy some of the most beautiful views in Coos County in the first place and then use economic development money to mitigate damage that is entirely avoidable.
Besides 120+ miles of this project still being overhead, an equally significant concern is the fact that Northern Pass continues to propose violating private property rights. This new plan still requires going through the Washburn Family Forest in Clarksville, which is an illegal infringement on property rights of the Society for the Protection of N.H. Forests (SPNHF).
Additionally, two places along the new underground route are through Forest Society easements where SPNHF owns land on both sides of the road, similar to the situation in Clarksville.
Five years ago the Legislature battled fiercely to protect private property rights. We finally passed HB-648 which prevented private developers from using the eminent domain process to take private property. Northern Pass does not have the right to cross these private easements and private property, so why are these areas still on their route?
The companies involved in this project can afford complete burial of this transmission line. The dollar value of the electricity to be sold over the 40-year contract period between Eversource and Hydro Quebec is large enough to support the cost of completely burying the line in New Hampshire. There is no valid argument offered by HQ or Eversource to suggest otherwise.
For five years, folks along the Northern Pass route, from the Canadian border to Deerfield have stood together to oppose this project. No issue in recent history has so united people, across party lines so strongly, for so long.
There was no stronger advocate for the North Country and its people than Councilor Ray Burton, who was the very first elected official to publicly oppose the project.
Former Governor John Lynch came to the conclusion that if New Hampshire communities impacted by the project did not support it, then the project should not be built.
Senator Ayotte has come to the conclusion that Northern Pass should be completely buried in New Hampshire. I agree with her: New Hampshire IS worth it!
To the Northern Pass officials, this is about New Hampshire choosing New Hampshire's future, not Hydro Quebec or Eversource choosing New Hampshire's future.
Let's see a plan that buries the entire line, a plan that respects private property; a plan that doesn't destroy our property values, our tourism economy, and our treasured landscapes.
(NOTE: Northern Pass will hold a series of Public Information Sessions in each of the five counties where the project will be located. The sessions are a required part of the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee permitting process and must be held at least 30 days before Northern Pass files its application. For more information: http://northernpass.us/public-meetings-and-openhouses.htm)
(Meredith Republican Jeanie Forrester represents District 2 in the New Hampshire Senate.)
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