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House to vote on bill encouraging projects such as Northern Pass to bury power lines


CONCORD — New Hampshire lawmakers will get a chance to vote on legislation that would encourage future developers of large electric transmission projects to bury their power lines along public rights of way.

Opponents of the Northern Pass project, a controversial proposal to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec into the New England grid, have been pushing for a requirement that non-essential power lines be buried.

Instead, the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee voted 12-7 on Tuesday to send to the full House a bill that would establish a preference for burying lines — but not a mandate — when the state's Site Evaluation Committee considers transmission projects.

According to committee Chairman Rep. Dave Borden, D-New Castle, the bill, as amended, states that "burial of electric transmission lines shall be the preferred, but not required, option for all elective electric transmission lines with supports over 50 feet."

The bill also instructs the Site Evaluation Committee, which must approve all major power line projects, to "presume that any line not required for system reliability and not proposed to be substantially buried will have an unreasonably adverse effect on aesthetics."

An applicant will be able to argue that above-ground lines are appropriate in particular circumstances.

The bill, as amended, is expected to come before the full House in early January.

"The language the committee approved is a good first step toward giving the SEC the flexibility and authority it needs to make decisions based on what's best for New Hampshire," said Jack Savage, a spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which has advocated burying the Northern Pass transmission lines."It's not just about Northern Pass," Savage said. "We are likely facing more proposals for transmission lines between Quebec and southern New England. As those come forward, we need a process in place that enables the SEC to ensure that New Hampshire's interests are paramount."

Michael Skelton, a spokesman for Northern Pass, called the bill "a clear case of the legislature targeting a specific project and not allowing the public permitting process to do its work."

Skelton said the legislation, if approved, will discourage developers from pursuing energy transmission projects in New Hampshire.

"We are very concerned that this legislation will simply drive energy costs higher at a time when existing power generation sources are closing their doors and new sources of low-cost energy need to be developed to meet future demand."

ISO New England projects the region will need more than 5,000 megawatts of new generation to replace retiring powering plants such as the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant or the coal-fired Brayton Point in Massachusetts.

"The need to develop new sources of clean, reliable, low-cost energy is clear and this legislation throws up a barrier to accomplishing that by creating a new mandate that will increase energy costs for all customers," Skelton said.

dsolomon@unionleader.com

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