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Northern Pass’ route: Buried lines and compromise

Northern Pass has filed plans with the state and the U.S. Department of Energy for approval of its new route, which contains eight miles of buried power lines. After unveiling the new route late last month, PSNH President Gary Long (who announced on Friday that he is resigning that role to concentrate his energies on Northern Pass) said “We’ve done our work. We need to move forward.” Well, maybe.

There are benefits and drawbacks to the Northern Pass project, which would bring hydropower to the New England grid via transmission lines run from Canada to Deerfield. The obvious drawback, and the reason the project is so controversial, is that Northern Pass wants to cut a path for new power lines through part of the scenic North Country. Residents are rightly concerned about the impact on their views, their property values, their livelihoods and their quality of life.

As with any big energy project, the devil is in the details. PSNH officials initially said it would be too expensive to bury power lines. But after two years of public pressure, Northern Pass came back with a plan to bury a small section of the lines. That is encouraging.

Several New Hampshire elected officials, Gov. Maggie Hassan being the most prominent, characterized the new plan as a promising first step, but expressed hope that more of the lines would be buried. Many in the North Country share that hope. Despite Long’s assertion that “We’ve done our work,” New Hampshire communities still have a say under state law. We are sure they will continue to press for more of the lines to be buried. Northern Pass officials would be wise to continue listening to those concerns.

Long maintains that burying the entire run of lines would increase the cost 10 times and make it unworkable. But there very well might be a compromise to be found between that and the current proposal. It is pretty clear that the work is not yet done.

Johnny A
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