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.