Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Editorial: A bad week for Northern Pass

Littleton Courier and Coos County Democrat editorial, 5/25/2016 -
A bad week for Northern Pass
The level of negative public comments about Northern Pass was not surprising at a hearing in Whitefield on Thursday evening. Even with opposition to the project from all but one speaker, the hearing was not enough for the controversial hydropower transmission project to have a bad week. Additional facts learned Thursday could be downright devastating for Northern Pass, however. The Site Evaluation Committee and the Department of Environmental Services took steps to cause a big momentum shift toward those who oppose the project.
The SEC's decision to add nine months to the review of Northern Pass demonstrates what many have thought for a long time: The project is too complicated and impactful for a regulatory review to conclude by the original deadline, which was late this year. Now, with the decision date on a construction permit pushed to the end of September 2017, one wonders if Hydro Quebec, which would build Northern Pass with its partner Eversource, will decide the fight is not worth it. With nine more months to make their case, those who oppose the project have wind at their backs now.
Perhaps more devastating to the project, DES has issued a detailed list of regulatory findings that lead to one simple conclusion: The preferred route of the applicant will not receive wetlands and alteration of terrain permits in its current form. DES clearly supports more burial of the transmission lines, and Northern Pass is going to need to spend a lot more money on re-routing the project and making more people happy.
Another big question for the coming months will be whether the proposed Forward NH Fund, which promises millions in economic development for the state, can be considered as part of the benefits from Northern Pass. State law requires the SEC to determine the project is in the "public interest," and project opponents do not see why the fund should be considered part of the electricity transmission application. A determination that a public interest finding need not consider the fund's benefits would be an even bigger blow than what state regulators delivered last week.
Many residents in our region, with some justification, have wondered if the state's regulators were going to quickly approve Northern Pass, regardless of the strong opposition to the project in our region. The SEC and DES have proven they are not lap dogs of the utility industry by taking strong steps in a direction Hydro Quebec obviously does not want to go.
Maybe Hydro Quebec is not that concerned about pleasing people who live in the North Country. But they learned a big lesson this week: Failure to please regulators means more upfront costs during the application process, and therefore less profit from the long life they hope to wrest from Northern Pass infrastructure. This editor would now like to ask another question: Will the project ever happen? That is not as silly to ask as it may seem. After all, we are almost six years out from the original project proposal, and Northern Pass is nowhere close to moving its first speck of  dirt along the transmission route.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Balsams’ Otten Asks Selectmen For Neutrality On Northern Pass

Colebrook: Balsams’ Otten Asks Selectmen For Neutrality On Northern Pass

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record
April 5, 2016

Three weeks after testifying at a hearing in support of Northern Pass, Balsams developer Les Otten weighed in on the project again when he asked Colebrook selectmen last week to jettison a paragraph encouraging burial of the proposed power line in a letter they sent to the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee.

During their March 28 meeting, selectmen voted 3-0 to send the letter, drafted by Selectman Susan Collins, to NHSEC stating, “The Colebrook selectboard recognizes the divisiveness that the Northern Pass project has created in our community and surrounding region. The town of Colebrook is not and has not been a party to the negative campaigns opposed to the transmission project.”

The selectmen then wrote, “The town of Colebrook does support the $200 million Forward New Hampshire fund and its stated goals of community betterment, clean energy innovation, economic development and tourism. If there was ever a need for accomplishing all four goals in northern Coos County and Colebrook, it is now.”

 On March 8, at joint NHSEC-U.S. Department of Energy hearing on Northern Pass in Colebrook, Otten said the $143 million first-phase Balsams redevelopment will benefit from $2 million from Northern Pass with “the potential for a more substantial investment by the fund as Northern Pass progresses.”

In their letter, the Colebrook selectmen said the N.H. Forward fund has made a “significant financial commitment to The Balsams redevelopment” and the closure several years ago of the resort’s golf course in Colebrook “has negatively impacted Colebrook’s tax base.”

After selectmen last week voted to send the letter and its ending paragraph recommending burial to the SEC, Balsams developer Ed Brisson, who was at the March 28 meeting, contacted Otten, who drove to the meeting to encourage the board to remove it.

According to the draft meeting minutes, Otten expressed concerns that the letter’s words about burying the Northern Pass line sound like the selectmen have picked a side instead of staying neutral and letting the NHSEC decide.

The board voted unanimously to remove the paragraph.

“We intended to be neutral and felt it was, but other folks felt it wasn’t, and by taking out that particular paragraph we became more neutral,” Board of Selectman Chairman Greg Placy told the White Mountain Record Monday.

Placy said selectmen would not be averse to the town receiving money from the Forward N.H. fund, which he said could help the town with projects, among them Main Street reconstruction.

The board believes it should be neutral, with one reason being the line would not pass through Colebrook, said Placy.

Last week, Otten also met with executive board members of the Colebrook-based North Country Chamber of Commerce (NCCC), which is opposed to the Northern Pass towers, to ask them for the same neutrality. The NCCC is a NHSEC-granted intervenor in Northern Pass.

On Monday, Otten told the White Mountain Record he wanted to inform the Colebrook selectmen that the current Northern Pass plan before the NHSEC includes above-ground line and some buried line, 5,000 acres of land donation, and the $200 million Forward N.H. fund.

“There are a lot of things in the plan and if you said you were against it or you favored burial of the entire line you were against the plan,” said Otten. “I don’t think that has been entirely clear to everyone … I thought it was important for me, as a resident of Dixville and an investor so far, to inform the selectboard that for me I would rather see their position as neutral.”

On the chamber of commerce, Otten said, “When you take a business group that encompasses everyone from retired investment bankers to one-man businesses and that entity represents the community at large, I think it is appropriate for that institution to not take either side in that debate. I simply asked the executive board if I could present my point of view, and that is to take a neutral position, not for or against it, at the SEC.”

NCCC President Wayne Frizzell did not return a call Monday asking if the chamber will consider Otten’s request to be a neutral party in the chamber’s intervenor status with the NHSEC.

Money from the $200 million Forward N.H. fund would be disbursed to municipalities, businesses and organizations after an approval of the project.

Of the $2 million from Northern Pass for the Balsams redevelopment, Otten on Monday said, “What we have, we will owe. We have to pay it back. It’s a business negotiation between us and them and there are a lot of pieces to it.”

Opponents of the proposed towers, concerned about negative impacts to property values, scenic views and tourism, have said Northern Pass is trying to buy support for an unpopular project and argue Eversource Energy, parent company of Northern Pass, and partner Hydro-Quebec are unwilling to spend an additional $1 billion out of the billions of dollars they would make in profit to fully bury the line.

To expand the Balsams ski area, Otten has about 3,300 acres on the adjacent Bayroot property managed by Wagner Forest Management under option for purchase.

Wagner has entered into a lease agreement with Eversource to allow some 24 miles of Northern Pass towers on the Bayroot property.

Otten said his support of Northern Pass is not related to Eversource’s agreement with Wagner Forest Management and said Dixville Capital LLC, the Balsams’ redevelopment company, has had the Bayroot acres under option for some time.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

SEC Site Inspection Itinerary, March 7-8, 2016

Docket No. 2015-06
Issued March 3, 2016
(Excerpted from full Order and Notice)
March 7 and March 8, Coos County

Pursuant to New Hampshire Code of Administrative Rules, Site 202.13, a Site Inspection in this docket will be held on March 7 and March 8, 2016. On March 7, 2016, the Subcommittee, Counsel for the Public, and representatives of the Applicant will travel from Concord to Colebrook and will be prohibited from discussing the pending Application while on the route to Colebrook.

On March 7, 2016, the Site Inspection will commence at 11:30 AM at the Colebrook Elementary School, 27 Dumont Street in Colebrook, and will include the following stops:

12:00 PM - Hall Stream Road in Pittsburg (Border Crossing with Canada);

12:25 PM - Beecher Falls Road – Route 3 in Pittsburg-Clarksville (location of
transition stations 1 and 2 and underground on Route 3 – Washburn Family Forest);

12:50 PM - Wiswell Road in Clarksville (location of transition station 3);

1:25 PM - Heath Road in Stewartstown (location of transition station 4);

 2:00 PM - Diamond Pond Road in Stewartstown-Colebrook (Diamond Pond/Coleman

State Park);

2:45 PM - Route 26 in Millsfield/Dixville (Route 26 Route Crossing); and

3:20 PM – Return to Colebrook Elementary School.

On March 8, 2016, the Site Inspection will commence at 10:00 AM at the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, 101 Mountain View Road in Whitefield, and will include the following stops:

10:45 PM - Route 110 in Stark;

11:30 PM - Route 2 Scenic Overlook in Lancaster;

12:05 PM - Route 116 in Whitefield (Libby House);

12:15 PM - Route 3 in Whitefield (Whitefield Substation);

12:30 PM - Burns Pond Road in Whitefield (Burns Pond);

1:05 PM - Christmas Tree Lane in Bethlehem (The Rocks Estate); and

1:50 PM – Return to Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa.

All times set forth above are estimated and may be affected by weather, traffic, the amount of time at each stop, or other things beyond the control of the Subcommittee.

All parties and intervenors in this docket may attend the Site Inspection. There will be a bus provided that can accommodate 20 people at both the Colebrook Elementary School on March 7 and the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa on March 8.

Preference will be given to prospective intervenors from Coos County on a first-come, first served basis.

Members of the public may attend the Site Inspection at their own risk and expense; and with the understanding that the weather and terrain may require the Subcommittee to limit the extent of public participation in order to assure the safety of the Subcommittee, the parties, and the public.