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Northern Pass: Pros and cons filed with panel deciding project's fate

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 13. 2018 11:18PM
Members of the state Site Evaluation Committee, intervenors and others, during a bus tour in October, view a stretch of utility right-of-way in Concord where the Northern Pass transmission project would run. The committee will begin its deliberations on the project Jan. 30. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD - Serving the public interest is one test the proposed Northern Pass electric transmission project must meet to receive approval from the state Site Evaluation Committee.

Like everything else surrounding the $1.6 billion project, whether it would meet that test is a subject of debate, as seen in briefs filed with the committee by Friday's deadline.

In Berlin, city officials say Northern Pass' proposed $200 million Forward NH Plan and $7.5 million North Country Job Creation Fund would help generate jobs and serve the "public interest," according to a memorandum filed on the city's behalf.

But opponents say the project will hurt tourism and usurp local control.

They criticize the project for planning to use local roads without getting permission from those communities.

State law gives selectmen the right to approve use of town roads, according to two people - including a Coos County commissioner - who are representing Pittsburg, Clarksville, Stewartstown.

"The town must be allowed to protect itself and the health and safety of its residents when it comes to such an invasive use of town roads as that proposed by the applicants," wrote Steve Ellis and county Commissioner Richard Samson. "Great financial havoc might otherwise be inflicted on our local residents, their health and safety and their taxpayer pocketbooks."

Jan. 12 was the deadline for nearly all the parties in the case to file briefs. Northern Pass itself has until this Friday to file its brief before the committee begins public deliberations Jan. 30.

Berlin officials said North Country power generators, including the Burgess biomass plant seen here, would benefit from the Northern Pass project because Eversource has pledged to spend an estimated $50 million to upgrade the "Coos Loop" transmission line. (UNION LEADER FILE)

The 192-mile route would run through more than 30 communities, from Pittsburg to Deerfield, and include 60 miles buried underground.

"We look forward to reviewing each brief from all the intervenors," said Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray.

"Our brief will be filed January 19th and will include a section that responds to conditions or stipulations that have been suggested by other parties," Murray said. "We will not be commenting in the meantime on the briefs that are being filed now."

One group of towns said rejecting the project will restore some faith in government.

"If the Site Evaluation Committee denies this permit the overwhelming majority of New Hampshire citizens will set aside their cynicism of government and what they consider regulatory capture and reward those who put the people ahead of business," said Susan Enders Percy, spokesman for the Dummer-Stark-Northumberland Abutter Group.

Some questioned the financial deal between Northern Pass and Hydro-Quebec, which was formed by the government of Quebec. HQ would transmit its hydro power over the Northern Pass lines.

"Essentially, the applicants want to take our environmental resources, property and local roadbeds for the benefit of a foreign government that may or may not transmit power over the transmission line depending on market conditions, political considerations, and a pricing policy that will not be constrained by limitation of its monopoly power or by public interest concerns for those who might consume it in the United States," Ellis and Samson wrote.

Northern Pass said its project will bring cheaper power to New Hampshire.

The New England Power Generators Association said Northern Pass "has not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the project will bring economic benefits to New Hampshire in the form of lower wholesale energy costs."

Aesthetics was another common concern among the comments.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said Northern Pass had created a view "of merely a few, scattered impacted scenic, historic, and cultural landscapes, with only marginal potential adverse effects that can be simply mitigated," said attorneys Amy Manzelli and Jason Reimers in a 203-page memorandum.

Northern Pass "exceeds credulity" in asking the state committee "that this proposed project would have virtually no effect on the iconic landscapes of New Hampshire," they wrote.

Berlin officials said area power generators, including the Burgess biomass plant and the Jericho Wind facility, also would gain in value because Eversource has pledged to spend an estimated $50 million to upgrade the "Coos Loop," a transmission line that, if upgraded, could carry more electricity from those power generators.

A "business intervenor group," which includes the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Coos County Business and Employers Group, said the project would provide property taxes to communities along the route, increase power generation with the Coos Loop upgrade and "create a significant number of jobs" during Northern Pass's construction.

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