Monday, December 27, 2010

Talking Turkey to the Regulators

Not Simple NIMBYism

In his prepared testimony to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) filed on December 15, 2010, James A. Muntz, president of Northeast Utilities, was asked why the plan for Northern Pass includes both an HVDC line [to the Franklin converter station] and, below that, a conventional AC radial line [to Deerfield]. In other words, if HVDC transmission is so much more efficient than AC, and if most of the power is going to metro Boston and south, why not take the DC line further south in New Hampshire?

Muntz answered that the original preference was to extend the HVDC line much further south in NH, to a converter station at Scobie Pond in Londonderry, but PSNH backed off. Why? Muntz explains it:

In addition to economic and technical considerations, the design of the NPT
Line was heavily influenced by siting considerations. The initial preference
was to build the southern terminus converter station at PSNH’s Scobie
Pond substation in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Scobie Pond has
substantial developable real estate on which to build the converter and is a
robust location to interconnect into the 345-kV transmission grid. Losses
would have been lower, as well, which could have improved the economics
of the project overall. However, a thorough examination of the ROW
between PSNH’s Deerfield substation and Scobie Pond led us to conclude
that the project could not be sited at Scobie Pond. Expansion of that ROW
to accommodate the new HVDC line would result in impacts on Land Trust
areas, conservation easements, commercial buildings, and up to 50-60
private homes.

It was concluded that expansion of the ROW would result in extremely
negative public and political reaction against the plan and the overall HVDC project. It was further determined that in order to locate
the HVDC converter terminal at Scobie Pond, the ROW would need to be reconfigured with taller structures in order to incorporate the HVDC line and/or the HVDC line would need to be built underground. Either option would have been very expensive and taller structures would have had the
additional downside of not being acceptable to the home owners along
the ROW. [bold emphases ours]
So, in its testimony to FERC, PSNH claims that it canceled the HVDC line extension past Concord and down into southern NH because they knew that homeowners would find it unaccaptable, that there would be extremely negative public reaction, and that there would be destructive impacts on conservation easements, land trust areas, commercial buildings, and up to 50-60 private homes. 
By that logic, PSNH should have never even contemplated running the HVDC line 140 miles through Coos and Grafton Counties. Homeowners here find it unacceptable too, and there are more than 50-60 private homes that will be disastrously affected; so too will conservation easements and land trust areas, not to mention NH State Parks, the White Mountain National Forest, tourist facilities that feed the state's revenue coffers with meals and rooms taxes, and much more. 
But there is one more reason that Manchester-based PSNH didn't try to ram this down the throat of its neighbors in Rockingham County, and it's not simple NIMBYism: it would result in "extremely negative political reaction." 
We leave PSNH and spokesperson Muntz with several questions that FERC did not ask. What did they think was the nature of this "extremely negative political reaction"? Why did they not anticipate similar "extremely negative political reaction" in Coos and Grafton Counties? Is it because citizens in southern New Hampshire have access to political power in ways that citizens in northernmost New Hampshire do not? Should this not invoke concerns about environmental justice, the official policy of the United States meant to ensure that those without access to political power do not suffer environmental degradation? Doesn't everyone remember "Erin Brockovich" (2000), the film that explores how communities that lack resources and power can suffer environmental discrimination? And how that film ends?

Bury the Northern Pass is a group of concerned citizens in Grafton County; we work in coordination with our neighbors in Coos County. To join the email list, write to