We don’t agree on much when it comes to Northern Pass. But we have managed to engage in a frank exchange of views about this contentious project, to find common ground, and even to see possible solutions.
Which is what we should expect from its developers as well.
We both believe that Northern Pass must recognize legitimate objections from affected communities. We are convinced that a responsible solution can be found, but only in the presence of honest dialogue among all the stakeholders involved, and a willingness from the developers to address key objections in a meaningful way. Otherwise, Northern Pass is headed for a brick wall of public resistance, drawn-out litigation, permitting disputes, legislative remedies and other roadblocks.
Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier believes strongly that the Northern Pass Transmission Project (NP) would address New England’s dependence on natural gas for power generation as well as future energy needs created by decommissioning of aging plants. Grenier has also concluded that Coos County would benefit from the many construction jobs and future tax payments promised by NP.
Sugar Hill Tower Opponents coordinator Nancy Martland believes strongly that the planned overhead transmission lines would have a lasting and damaging effect on New Hampshire’s iconic landscape and on our state’s private property owners. Martland does not believe that the benefits of the present plan outweigh its costs to whole communities, individuals, public/private conserved properties and the tourism economy that is a New Hampshire mainstay.
We both agree that, in Mayor Grenier’s words, “the developers of Northern Pass, in my view, got miserably failing grades for how they introduced the project to affected communities and their continued resistance to engaging the public for solutions.” Neither of us has seen a serious effort from the developer to involve affected communities or citizens in real conversation concerning any possible alternative to the present proposal — despite the many “community open houses” held.
To date, the Northern Pass strategy has been to run silent and plow ahead. In order for Northern Pass to go forward in any form, this stance will have to change.
Martland, an unabashed advocate of buried HVDC transmission lines, thinks one solution lies underground along highways and railways. That is where successful developers plan to place HVDC lines in Quebec, New York, Vermont, Pennyslvania, Maine and elsewhere. Grenier agrees that burying more lines could erase the negative impacts on many private property owners.
We both believe that modern underground lines are the kind of technology that Gov. Maggie Hassan called for in her letter to the Boston Globe last fall: “…in no sector is innovation needed more than our energy industry. And yet, the Northern Pass project discounts innovative technologies and new approaches in favor of old transmission methods that could harm our state.”
Unfortunately for all involved, no substantive discussion of this or any other possible solution will occur until Northern Pass developers take seriously the objections of affected citizens. Their refusal to do so dooms Northern Pass to travel a long, uncertain and potentially dead-end road. It dooms New Hampshire to protracted conflict over this issue, perhaps resulting in much that is lost and nothing that is gained. It could also doom New Hampshire craftsmen to lose out on the many years of work near home that the project could provide.
The time for Northern Pass to come to the table is now.
Nancy Martland of Sugar Hill is coordinator of Sugar Hill Tower Opponents. Paul Grenier is mayor of Berlin.