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Committee rejects Northern Pass application; supporters vow to fight decision

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 01. 2018 7:34PM
Opponents got their wish on Thursday when the state Site Evaluation Committee voted 7-0 to deny the construction permit for the Northern Pass electric transmission project. (UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT FILE/Melissa Proulx)

CONCORD — Northern Pass officials vowed to fight for their $1.6 billion project after a state committee unanimously voted Thursday to deny the project’s application.

The vote — coming unexpectedly on the third of 12 scheduled days of deliberations — scuttled plans to begin construction on the electric transmission project as soon as April.

All seven members of the Site Evaluation Committee agreed that Northern Pass had not met its burden to show the proposed transmission line would not “unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region.”

They cited concerns over potential harm to tourism, property values and businesses along the proposed 192-mile route.

Northern Pass plans to ask the committee to reconsider its vote and was “reviewing all options for moving this critical clean-energy process forward,” project spokesman Martin Murray said.

“We are shocked and outraged by today’s SEC outcome.” Murray said.

Opponents cheer outcome

“This is a big victory for the state and for all the people who have been fighting these last seven-plus years against it,” said Judy Reardon, senior adviser to Protect the Granite State, a group opposing the project.

The next step will be for the committee to issue a written decision by March 31.

Northern Pass or other parties then have 30 days to file a motion for rehearing before the committee. If that is denied, then the parties can appeal to the state Supreme Court, according to committee attorney Michael Iacopino.

He didn’t have a timetable on when the committee would take up any motions filed.

But Murray said the committee’s process “failed to comply with New Hampshire law and did not reflect the substantial evidence on the record.”

He said $3 billion worth of New Hampshire jobs, taxes and other benefits “are now in jeopardy. Clearly, the SEC process is broken and this decision sends a chilling message to any energy project contemplating development in the Granite State.”

Northern Pass was proposed to transmit hydroelectric power from Quebec into New England, starting in late 2020. The route was to run through more than 30 communities from Pittsburg to Deerfield and include 60 miles of buried lines.

More than 20 communities along the route opposed the project.

Debate about continuing

Some committee members debated whether it was better to stop the proceedings immediately or continue deliberations with the possibility that the project could end up in the courts.

“As it stands right now, it’s a much easier case to bring to the Supreme Court,” said Chairman Martin Honigberg. “But it does run the risk if there’s a reversal having to do a lot of things when they’re not fresh in our minds.”

Committee member Patricia Weathersby, an attorney, was reluctant to halt the proceedings.

“If the expediency is at all a rationale for stopping now, I think that without too many more days we can be done and have addressed all of the topics,” she said. “I think there’s some risk in not addressing them that we should consider if for some reason, I can’t imagine how, but if we ever got reversed on an appeal, would that mean to consider everything and with the passage of time our memories perhaps would fade or make up different members of the committee and I think that that’s a pretty big risk.”

Committee member Craig Wright cited the philosophy of the New England Patriots coach.

“I’m really, really conflicted on this to be honest with you,” said Wright. “On one hand, I can hear Bill Belichick telling me to do my job and finish what you started. I also am an engineer, too, and I’m a realist. We essentially have a four-legged stool. As of this morning, I think we all know how we feel about at least one of those legs and you need four legs to stand up in this case.”

The committee Thursday morning informally polled members about orderly development, but held off on a vote until after an extended lunch break.

Member Christopher Way said he wasn’t sure he accepted the project expert’s argument that there would be no impact to property values.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Way said. “I just don’t think it passes the straight-face test that there will be none. I think we’ve heard some good testimony to suggest it could be just the opposite.”

The committee had four criteria it needed to consider: the project will serve the public interest; will not have an unreasonable adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment, and public health and safety; will not unduly interfere with the region’s orderly development; and the applicant has adequate financial, technical and managerial capability to assure construction and operation.

Massachusetts reacts

Last week, Eversource New Hampshire President Bill Quinlan said he was confident the project would receive the SEC certificate, but he wouldn’t rule out a court appeal if the project got rejected.

Eversource through Sept. 30 had spent $249 million related to Northern Pass, which was publicly announced in October 2010.

The news comes a week after Northern Pass celebrated being chosen over more than 40 others to negotiate a contract for providing renewable energy to the Bay State.

“Massachusetts’ recently selected clean energy procurement project remains conditional on necessary siting approvals and EEA will continue to monitor and evaluate developments in New Hampshire as the administration works to ensure a clean and affordable energy future that progresses toward greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” said Peter Lorenz, communications director for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

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