Saturday, November 27, 2010

PSNH and the White Mountain National Forest: Some History

Electricity came to NH in the 1880’s and was slow to gain acceptance over gas and other energy technologies (e.g., the water wheel). Electric companies had to invent demand by, for instance, buying horse- drawn street car companies and converting them to electric. The 1880’s saw a number of electric companies spring up in NH. PSNH was organized in 1926 to consolidate several different companies, including gas and hydro.

“To build demand, PSNH created the Home Service Department in 1929 to help customers select and use gas and electric appliances. These efforts proved effective. In 1928, the average residential customer used 296 kWh of electricity annually. By 1931, this had gone up 45 percent to 429 kWh. PSNH also emphasized rural electrification. Construction of rural lines increased steadily, from 23.3 miles in 1927 to 99.5 miles in 1931”(

Rural customers, however, had to pay exorbitant prices for electric service, and electrification proceeded slowly in the North Country during the 1930s. Private companies by and large focused on the more profitable larger population centers.

In 1936, the Rural Electrification Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt to provide funding to promote reasonably-priced electrification of remote areas by member-owned cooperatives. Crews traveled the countryside and typically installed one switched overhead light per room; outlets were uncommon since plug-in appliances remained expensive.

The State Grange encouraged the development of the NH Electric Co-op in 1938. This federally-funded cooperative competed with private companies, including PSNH, and began to drive prices down. The private companies, in turn, dropped their rates in order to attract more rural customers (

The Co-op pushed north from the Lakes area in 1940 and eventually acquired the White Mountain Power Company in 1948. PSNH simultaneously began to expand into the North Country in the 1940s to compete for rural customers. In the Franconia-Easton area, the two lines still run parallel to one another down the valley.

PSNH bought a number of easements from private landowners in the Easton-Franconia valley in 1947. The typical easement over private land  was 225’. In some cases, this privately owned land was subsequently sold to the federal government to form part of the White Mountain National Forest, and the easements and, later, the power line came with the land. The 1940s Easton-Franconia ROWs run through what are now classified as wetlands and aquifer.

Would PSNH be able to buy these easements through the WMNF today? No. Would PSNH be allowed to construct the current AC powerline through wetlands and aquifer today? No.

Should PSNH be allowed to widen and construct a new and much larger HVDC line over these 1940s easements in the WMNF and through wetlands and aquifers? NO. New environmental violations must not be grandfathered, and there should be no further privitizing of the public land in the WMNF. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

What Is Missing In This Picture?

What Is Missing In This Picture?

                                        Franconia Village, November 23, 2010

There are no overhead power lines.


Franconia merchants paid out of pocket to bury the lines because:

  • buried lines enhance the aesthetic appeal of the town and of their business;
  • buried lines create more reliable power supply (no poles to be hit by autos);
  • buried lines demonstrate their civic pride.
Why can't Northeast Utilities take the same pride in New Hampshire?

To join our email list of Concerned Citizens in Grafton County, which works in solidarity with Coos County, send an email to

Monday, November 22, 2010

The ABC's of Underground and Overhead

Since our "alternate route" for the Northern Pass project is to bury the lines, what are the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of undergound v. overhead transmission? Bob Craven has found three articles that will walk you through the basics, and I'll add a fourth.

1. Article 1 is a very thorough overview of underground power transmission prepared by the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.

2. Article 2 is a one-page summary of a comparison of reliability and cost for underground and overhead power lines.

3. Article 3 is a comprehensive overview of many aspects of electric power transmission. It covers the many state and federal regulatory agencies that have authority for electrical power transmission, many of which have overlapping jurisdictions. (Warning: 3 MB file.)

4. The last, actually a website, discusses a "new breed of high-capacity, long-haul electricity transmission that’s ideal for remotely located power sources, including renewables." (Disclosure: this is a commercial site.)

This post is open to comment and discussion.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Join the fight

Join your friends and neighbors in the grassroots effort to preserve the beauty of the White Mountains, to protect our land and water, and to secure our economic and environmental future by encouraging the development of native renewable sources of energy!

Bury the Northern Pass's inaugural post, following, is an Op Ed written by a group of concerned citizens based in Grafton County working in solidarity with our neighbors to the north in Coos County. We insist that the voice of the public be heard before Northeast Utilities, parent company of PSNH, is allowed to complete its plan to construct a 180-mile overhead high voltage direct current transmission line with 135' high steel towers through the heart of the White Mountains.

There is much to do. Please start by reading the Op Ed, following, which serves as a position paper  for this blog, and by following posts in this blog, which will contain updates, announcements, and information on what you can do to help. You may also ask to join our mailing list by writing to New names are added as space allows.

Position Paper (November, 2010)


Northeast Utilities (the parent company of PSNH based in Connecticut), N-Star, and Hydro-Quebec are collaborating on a project called “the Northern Pass,” which would build a new 140-mile overhead high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line from the Canadian border to a converter plant in Franklin NH, with another 40 miles of conventional AC line beyond that to the PSNH  distribution station in Deerfield. This project has been in the works for two and a half years and has now advanced to the first permitting stage, but only this week were area residents notified when PSNH representatives revealed it in meetings with local selectboards.

It is astounding that this massive, destructive, and unnecessary project ever got off the ground in the first place. “The need for additional power currently doesn’t exist,” admitted PSNH development manager Patrick McDermott to other corporate energy developers in Atlanta in February, 2010. McDermott also admitted that power from Hydro-Quebec is not considered renewable and would not contribute to New Hampshire’s goal of 25% renewable power by 2025 (RPS).* The project would impede efforts to develop local renewable energy sources that would contribute to our RPS, such as biomass wood chip, which would also provide desperately needed permanent jobs in the North Country. And the HVDC line construction jobs would go solely to an expert out-of-state crew. Neither would the Northern Pass project lower our electricity costs; at best it would keep them “competitive” for PSNH customers only, conceded project manager Brian Bosse at the Franconia selectboard meeting. Indeed, most of the power would be sold south of New Hampshire to the lucrative energy markets of the urban northeast. The only tax advantage would be to the town of Franklin for the converter plant. Whatever minor tax advantage local towns might reap, if any, would be offset by a drastic drop in property values. Bosse did not deny that land and home prices would plummet as a result of the visual pollution from the army of 140’ tall metal lattice-work towers required to carry overhead high voltage lines. Existing ROWs in this area would have to be widened in order to accommodate the new lines alongside the current AC distribution line, with its 40’ wooden poles that are at or below the height of the surrounding trees. The new 140’ towers would industrialize the landscape and scar the North Country permanently. They would ruin the only big “business” we have at present: scenery and the sense of the backcountry that draws people to live, vacation, and enjoy the outdoors here. There is no way for the new line to go south on current PSNH ROWs without cutting through the White Mountain National Forest. This would also negatively impact wetlands and, Northeast admits, such threatened and endangered species as the peregrine falcon, northern harrier, eastern cougar, and gray wolf.

How did the Northern Pass project ever get so far so fast when there is no demonstrable current need for this power and it would not contribute to our 2025 state RPS goal? Its developers pushed it through with a slick, state-of-the-art public relations campaign that targeted all the major “stakeholders” and kept us, the North Country residents who will bear the brunt of it, in the dark. This sales campaign is being touted as a model for the utilities industry. Northeast rushed it through because they are in a race with other major utility developers to reach the lucrative energy markets of the urban northeast. Transmission projects are known to yield high financial returns; the Northern Pass will be a hugely profitable venture for its owners if they win this race. Northeast is already planning to develop more transmission projects through northern New Hampshire that would fast-track power from Canadian sources to Boston, Hartford, New York; this will mean more towers and wider ROWs scarring the North Country. Like the lumber barons of old, Northeast’s developers are fast becoming the new boa constrictor of the White Mountains. They are after one thing only: money.

The only mitigation that Northern Pass offers is to move the overhead HVDC lines from the “preferred” route to an “alternate” route. Here, the lines would be moved west from the preferred route in the Franconia-Easton valley to an alternate route in the Connecticut River valley that would avoid the White Mountain National Forest, sensitive habitat that these developers admit is a stumbling block to their plans and are prepared to route around if the public demands it. We view “route alternatives” as a divide-and-conquer strategy that would pit local communities against one another and distract us from collectively insisting that the Northern Pass project follow the universal best practice for these lines: bury them. Underground lines could run through the existing PSNH ROWs on private land or preferably through the existing public ROWs of interstate highways, which would cause the least social and environmental disruption. If the entire project is not “buried,” then the lines must be.

The cost of underground lines has dropped with new technology. They have the lowest security and safety risk. They require much smaller corridors than those necessary to offset the noise and electric and magnetic field effects of overhead lines. Hydro-Quebec has found the money to bury a much longer HVDC line under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River (the so-called Champlain Hudson Power Express), and Northeast itself has run underground lines in its home state of Connecticut. The City of Los Angeles pulls in 1600 MW of HVDC current underground from even more remote sites in the desert. Burying HVDC is a common practice in Europe and is being adopted more and more widely across the U.S. Why not use it for this project? Insist that the Northeast utility developers invest the money now to install the least damaging and most secure transmission line. There will be no turning back later. If Northeast Utilities cannot afford to develop this project in a socially responsible manner, our state permitting agency, which has the ultimate authority, should pass on the Pass and thereby encourage native New Hampshire sources of renewable energy that will also provide permanent jobs for our residents.  

(published as an opinion column in the Littleton Courier, Nov. 23, 2010)

*Quotations from