Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Easton: Northern Pass on Hot Seat

Click here for a video of the Easton Selectboard meeting by Bulldog Media of NH.

Easton: Northern Pass Team On Hot Seat

Public Hearing On Northern Pass Nov. 18 In Franconia

By Robert Blechl, Staff Writer
Caledonian Record

EASTON -- As they did in Franconia and Sugar Hill last month, a Northern Pass team visited Easton Monday for a similar project presentation and were met with dozens of area residents and town representatives who came prepared with many questions that put them on the hot seat.

Although the line as revised in August replaces the proposed towers in Easton with 9.4 miles of underground line buried along the shoulders and travel lanes of Routes 116 and 112, many residents were concerned about environmental impacts and impacts to residential properties.

Summing up Monday evening's sentiment, Easton Conservation Commission Chairman Roy Stever said, "People in this town deserve your transparency."

The first question asked was what has now become the burning question in the tri-town area -- why can't the line be buried along Interstate 93.

Attorney Mark Hodgdon, contracted by Northern Pass, said there are a number of reasons I-93 won't work, among them the N.H. Department of Transportation saying that utilities such as Eversource, the parent company of Northern Pass, must show extreme hardship to use any of their corridors.

But Selectman Debbie Stever pointed out that the DOT several years ago identified I-93 as an energy corridor.

Hodgdon said he is aware of that, but did not comment further.

Roy Stever said Northern Pass for years was saying it can't bury lines and now is saying it can, but only along roads through Easton.

"You're only at 30 percent of your engineering," said Stever, "I ask you to keep an open mind."
Interstate 93 is fewer miles and has fewer obstructions, he said.

Roy Stever also asked how the environmental impacts along the interstate compare to Routes 116 and 112 and if they are more or less.

Hodgdon did not have an answer, and did not promise one, but said he'll submit the question.
Company profit was also brought up, and Debbie Stever said towns are hearing about cost estimates but not about the revenue Eversource would make off the hydro-electric transmission line that for assessment purposes has a net book life of 40 years.

"Does Eversource earn more money if you go down Routes 116 and 112 than if you go down I-93?" she asked.

Eversource representatives did not respond.

Some 70 percent of Easton is within national forest, and Roy Stever said the U.S. Forest Service will have to be part of the permitting process.

He also voiced concern about Eversource utility poles abandoned in the 1980s in the town's higher elevations that he said are now leaching chemicals into waterways including the Ham Branch.

Ten streams go under roads in Easton.

Roy Stever said the town is concerned about impacts to its watersheds and asked what best management practices Eversource has in place and if the town can read them.

As the project enters another year, a legal fight could be in the future regarding who owns the dirt under the roads.

As they said in Sugar Hill and other towns, Easton residents and town officials say the landowners own the land under the roads and argue Northern Pass will have to seek permission from those landowners to bury the line if the project moves forward.

Posted on many properties along Route 116 in Franconia and Easton Monday were signs reading, "No Northern Pass on 116."

Roy Stever expressed frustration at what he said has been a lack of answers by the company and no appearance by company representatives until Monday, even though the conservation commission for several years had been requesting a meeting.

Several years ago, company representatives said they would meet with the town well before the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee process, he said.

"That didn't happen," said Stever.

The SEC process began with a round of informational sessions in September.

Following a Northern Pass presentation last month in Franconia, a public hearing to gather comments on the company's proposal in that town will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at Franconia Town Hall.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hydro-Québec can afford to bury Northern Pass - editorial

  "We cannot afford to see a state entity act as the stooge of a foreign company’s record profits."

Coos County Democrat and Littleton Courier editorial (October 28, 2015)

Hydro-Québec can afford to bury Northern Pass

Éric Martel, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Hydro-Québec, must really enjoy life. While planning to build and pay for Northern Pass, the nearly 200 miles of power lines through New Hampshire, Martel’s company has posted hefty profits. On the Hydro-Québec website, Martel rightfully referred to 2014 as "a remarkable year." Certainly, a $3.4 billion profit and $2.5 billion dividend to shareholders qualifies as remarkable.

Good news keeps getting better for Hydro-Québec, which is owned by the province’s government. For 2015, the company’s financials remain stellar. Profit for the first six months of this year exceeded $2 billion. Congratulations to Hydro-Québec for following up a remarkable year with an absolutely amazing six months. Counting the first half of this year, Hydro-Québec’s profits since the start of 2011, shortly after Northern Pass was originally proposed, were just under $12 billion, or about $7,250,000 each day. Even after converting the company’s figures to American dollars, the profit remains rather large.

With all the dollars flying around, why is Hydro-Québec hesitant to use some of those record profits over the next four years, the anticipated timeframe to build Northern Pass, to pay for complete burial of the transmission line?

Northern Pass, a partnership between Hydro-Québec and New England power supplier Eversource, recently filed an application with the state’s Site Evaluation Committee. A decision on the controversial proposal will take about a year. Northern Pass seems to have new momentum after agreeing in August to bury 52 more miles of line. A step in the right direction, for sure, but the total proposed amount of buried lines is less than one-third of the project’s length.

Beyond the $1.6 billion Northern Pass anticipates to spend on the proposed route, with 60 miles of underground lines, the cost to fully bury the project would likely be less than one year of Hydro-Québec’s profit. Trees and views in Coös County, where most of the transmission towers would be visible, matter as much as land around the White Mountains, the area benefiting from the August decision to bury more lines.

Dedicated residents have testified about how the tall towers of Northern Pass would diminish the joy our land provides. Hopefully Mr. Martel and Northern Pass can forgive the people of the North Country who believe our forests are more remarkable than a foreign monopoly’s balance sheet. Beloved scenery and the wonders of nature - not a Canadian company’s quest for more profit - make life grand in New Hampshire.

If Hydro-Québec wants to add to its financial success by sending energy down the Northern Pass route, the company needs to pay for total line burial. That might complicate construction and push the start time for the project back. So be it. New Hampshire is worth the wait.

Regardless of how beneficial nearly 1,100 megawatts of power would be for the regional electric grid, the business partners in two countries who proposed Northern Pass need to answer a question. Why won’t Hydro-Québec divert some of its mighty profits to bury the entire project?

Even the angriest critic of Northern Pass must admit that the project’s leaders have respectfully heard many people express their doubts about the power line. Perhaps the Site Evaluation Committee will hear us even better. They need to. They must. We cannot afford to see a state entity act as the stooge of a foreign company’s record profits.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"A Devastating Blow to Northern Pass" - Op Ed

Coös County Democrat (July 29, 2015)
Littleton Courier (July 29, 2015)
Plymouth Record Enterprise (July 30, 2015)

Editorial Opinion

 A devastating blow to Northern Pass

 On July 21, a major victory was won for those who oppose Northern Pass. The five-year process leading to the project’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) ended wih the U.S. Department of Energy releasing the long awaited document. The department concluded that the proposal for nearly 180 miles of huge electricity towers would damage our tourist economy and the great views that make life in the North Country a continuous treat.

The DEIS suggested several alternative routes for Northern Pass, the PSNH/Eversource proposal to bring HydroQuebec power to the New England grid using, almost exclusively, mammoth transmission towers through New Hampshire. Because of the dreadful visual impact from the tall towers, many alternatives in the DEIS call for underground lines, as so many people from Northern New Hampshire have suggested for years. We were speaking, but Northern Pass was not listening.

 Northern Pass issued statements about the DEIS. Totally avoiding how the DEIS hurts the project’s momentum, the statements focus on the need for additional energy and how the Northern Pass permitting process will continue. Interestingly, Northern Pass credits the input received from citizens about the project. Nowhere has Northern Pass acknowledged the major strategic error in its continuing reluctance to consider what has clearly become the only option that stands any chance of winning the support of the North Country — burying the lines.

Noting the energy crisis New England faces, recent statements from Northern Pass imply our state would benefit from the extra supply and the subsequent lower costs. Yet, the project’s benefit to New Hampshire’s electricity consumers has never been clear. As far as lowering our high power rates, Northern Pass meekly states, "We continue to believe that Northern Pass is an important part of the answer." They just cannot seem to accept that the fat cats in two countries trying to push Northern Pass on us never bothered to ask whether residents of our region love our precious land, trees, and views. Generations of people here know the answer, and we do not need a corporate monstrosity looking to spoil our state while lecturing us on the need for new energy sources.

The DEIS notes how burying the lines would double the cost to build Northern Pass, but would also double the number of construction jobs compared to above ground lines. How Northern Pass responds to that fact will be interesting to see. Also, the DEIS found, towns most affected by the proposed overhead lines would gain the least amount of property tax revenue from the Northern Pass infrastructure that would weave its way through towns from Pittsburg south.

 Many people deserve credit for ensuring the DEIS captured the brutal devastation Northern Pass would bring to our region. Landowners turned away millions by refusing to sell their land to Northern Pass, devoted residents took many trips to Concord and elsewhere to find out more and have their voices heard, and people made the orange protest color central to their wardrobe.

 The final battle has not been won, but the above ground towers cannot realistically happen because of the big slap to the face the U.S. Department of Energy delivered to Eversource and HydroQuebec last week. This major victory belongs to us all. Thanks and congratulations to those who made such a triumph possible