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Northern Pass wants another try

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 24. 2018 11:37PM
Eversource New Hampshire President Bill Quinlan is questioned at a Northern Pass hearing in Concord last year. (DAVID LANE FILE PHOTO/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Northern Pass officials plan to take their fight to the state Supreme Court, if necessary, but first will try to "connect the dots" to convince a state committee to flip its decision and greenlight the project.

Eversource New Hampshire President Bill Quinlan said in an interview last week that he was "stunned" when Site Evaluation Committee members voted on the third of 12 scheduled days of deliberations and criticized the members for not suggesting ideas to lessen or eliminate concerns that included harm to tourism and property values.

"They should take the time to say, 'I've identified this impact. Are there any conditions that I can impose that would reduce my concern, whether it's route design changes or funding commitments,'?" Quinlan said.

"It could be a one-way negotiation," he said. "They could unilaterally impose conditions."

Committee members conducted a "flawed" process that didn't follow the law, Quinlan said.

There is no drop-dead date for construction to start on the $1.6 billion project, Quinlan said, but Northern Pass will file its request this week with the SEC to reconsider the committee's Feb. 1 rejection.

The Northern Pass reconsideration request will outline the committee's alleged deficiencies.

"First explain to them as very clearly as we can the things that they should have done that they didn't and then we have to connect the dots for them as to here is what you could have done," Quinlan said.

He is worried about the transmission-line project losing out on a 20-year deal to supply power to Massachusetts utilities for an agreed-to price.

A long delay in gaining SEC approval or engaging in a court fight could allow other proposed projects in New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont to become more attractive to build and find customers for their power, he said.

He said New Hampshire risks losing more than $3 billion worth of benefits over time. That includes $620 million in projected energy savings over 10 years, $600 million in property tax money paid over 20 years as well as $2 billion in projected growth in the state's gross domestic product during construction and the first 11 years of operation.

"This is the scenario I've worried about for a long time, which is this project moving either to Vermont or Maine and then all of the benefits that would have followed to New Hampshire wind up in one of those states," Quinlan said.

"We now have a real risk of that occurring if we don't make progress by the end of next month," Quinlan said.

That is because Massachusetts officials in January chose Northern Pass to help with its clean energy initiatives. By doing so, it gave the project a customer to buy Hydro-Quebec's electricity.

But after the SEC rejected Northern Pass, Bay State officials chose an alternative transmission project in Maine to concurrently negotiate a contract.

"A lot of the benefits to New Hampshire that I'm referring to are funded through the contract with Massachusetts," Quinlan said.

Quinlan, however, acknowledged New Hampshire could benefit in energy savings even if another project is built instead.

Project foe Jack Savage said Eversource should stop "flogging a dead horse" after more than seven years and $250 million.

"The question is when do you step back and try to find a better way to accomplish that goal," said Savage, who works for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

The 192-mile route runs through more than 30 communities, from Pittsburg to Deerfield.

Part of the project budget includes spending $50 million to upgrade the Coos transmission loop to allow independent renewable power generators to transmit more power via that section of transmission line. That won't happen without Northern Pass.

Massachusetts' alternative selection was the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project, a joint bid between Central Maine Power Company and Hydro-Quebec. That $950 million project would deliver 1,200 megawatts of hydro-power from Quebec through Maine into New England.

The Maine project isn't projected to go into service until 2022, two years later than Northern Pass, but still in time to meet the Massachusetts deadline.

"We're confident we can meet our commitments to the commonwealth," said John Carroll, spokesman for Central Maine Power's parent, Avangrid.

Committee attorney Michael Iacopino has said the committee's vote was legal.

Savage said the SEC correctly judged the project on its merits.

"It was a reflection of the strength of their convictions that Northern Pass, the applicant, not only didn't meet the burden of proof on the orderly development standard but didn't come close and there was no remedy," Savage said.

The project won't end if Massachusetts officials end negotiations with project officials.

"Our intention is to continue to develop the project and look for other opportunities if we're not successful in the Massachusetts RFP," Quinlan said. "It really has never been predicated on the outcome of any one solicitation."

The Massachusetts deal "gives our partner (Hydro-Quebec) confidence as to the going-forward price for their product," Quinlan said.

The project, initially funded by Eversource, would recoup its costs by receiving revenues from those buying the power transmitted over the lines.

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