Tuesday, December 4, 2012

NHCSE gets it wrong on Northern Pass

An "astroturf" (faux grassroots) group that promotes Northern Pass, the New Hampshire Coalition for Secure Energy (NHCSE) represents the Small Business and Small Industry Association and IBEW Local 104.

Following Minnesota's Lead

Last week, the NHCSE posted a blog, "Minesota Power to Import Canadian Hydro," that opens with a fundamentally inaccurate central claim: "Following New Hampshire's lead, Minnesota Power taps into the benefits of clean, renewable, Canadian hydroelectricity..." We'll leave aside the persistent false assertion that big hydro is "clean" - the U.S. EPA excludes it - and focus on the more deeply misleading implications of Minnesota Power's "following" New Hampshire's lead.

In the first place, Northern Pass is not New Hampshire. If Minnesota Power is following any lead in proposing its Great Northern Transmission Line (GNTL), it would be that of a group of corporations, Northeast Utilities, Northern Pass, and Hydro Quebec, which in no way comprises "New Hampshire," however one wishes to construe the term.

More importantly, Minnesota Power is not even following the lead of Northern Pass et al. There is a fundamental difference between the proposed GNTL and proposed NP projects. The key point is that a new transmission line cannot be built in Minnesota unless the PUC, under highly specific statutory tests, finds the transmission line is “needed” for reliable electric service:

 “The [Minnesota PUC] may only certify a project that is a high-voltage transmission line as defined in section 216B.2421, subdivision 2, that the commission finds is:

(1) necessary to maintain or enhance the reliability of electric service to Minnesota consumers;

(2) needed, applying the criteria in section 216B.243, subdivision 3; and

(3) in the public interest, taking into account electric energy system needs and economic, environmental, and social interests affected by the project.”

The "need" criteria referred to in section 2, above, are stringent:

Subd. 3.Showing required for construction.No proposed large energy facility shall be certified for construction unless the applicant can show that demand for electricity cannot be met more cost effectively through energy conservation and load-management measures and unless the applicant has otherwise justified its need. In assessing need, the commission shall evaluate:

(1) the accuracy of the long-range energy demand forecasts on which the necessity for the facility is based;

(2) the effect of existing or possible energy conservation programs under sections 216C.05 to 216C.30 and this section or other federal or state legislation on long-term energy demand;

(3) the relationship of the proposed facility to overall state energy needs, as described in the most recent state energy policy and conservation report prepared under section 216C.18, or, in the case of a high-voltage transmission line, the relationship of the proposed line to regional energy needs, as presented in the transmission plan submitted under section 216B.2425;

(4) promotional activities that may have given rise to the demand for this facility;

(5) benefits of this facility, including its uses to protect or enhance environmental quality, and to increase reliability of energy supply in Minnesota and the region;

(6) possible alternatives for satisfying the energy demand or transmission needs including but not limited to potential for increased efficiency and upgrading of existing energy generation and transmission facilities, load-management programs, and distributed generation;

(7) the policies, rules, and regulations of other state and federal agencies and local governments;

(8) any feasible combination of energy conservation improvements, required under section 216B.241, that can (i) replace part or all of the energy to be provided by the proposed facility, and (ii) compete with it economically;

(9) with respect to a high-voltage transmission line, the benefits of enhanced regional reliability, access, or deliverability to the extent these factors improve the robustness of the transmission system or lower costs for electric consumers in Minnesota;

(10) whether the applicant or applicants are in compliance with applicable provisions of sections 216B.1691 and 216B.2425, subdivision 7, and have filed or will file by a date certain an application for certificate of need under this section or for certification as a priority electric transmission project under section 216B.2425 for any transmission facilities or upgrades identified under section 216B.2425, subdivision 7;

(11) whether the applicant has made the demonstrations required under subdivision 3a; and

(12) if the applicant is proposing a nonrenewable generating plant, the applicant's assessment of the risk of environmental costs and regulation on that proposed facility over the expected useful life of the plant, including a proposed means of allocating costs associated with that risk.

If built, GNTL will have to be a “needed” line. It will undergo serious scrutiny by the Minnesota PUC to determine that it is a reliability project. This proposed line is completely different from Northern Pass, which is not "needed." It is an elective project, a merchant venture proposed simply to make money for its owners. It has neither been examined nor requested by ISO-NE for reliability.

In fact, the proposed Northern Pass project is a highly eccentric concept - a transmission line that no one asked for and no one needs to keep the lights on. The NHCSE's false analogy attempts to "normalize" Northern Pass, but Northern Pass remains what it is: a new brand of merchant venture on the part of its corporate sponsors that has nothing to do with traditional projects like the proposed Minnesota line.

In assessing the "need" for a new transmission project, the Minnesota PUC wisely evaluates the "promotional activities that may have given rise to the demand for this facility" (216B.243, subdivision 3 [4]). Such analysis is rooted in an ancient Latin question - cui bono?- loosely translated, to whose good? Who stands to benefit most from the project? Who stands to lose the most? Have project sponsors created demand through marketing techniques and so-called outreach campaigns? New Hampshire would do well to follow Minnesota's lead and ask the same questions as part of the regulatory review of Northern Pass. Minnesota has many other important criteria by which we should measure this elective project. See above.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hydro Quebec Towers: A "Significant Chilling Effect" on Property's Value

The NH Board of Tax and Land Appeals ruled that the first HVDC power line in New Hampshire had a "significant chilling effect" on a property's value and granted a tax abatement of 50%. 

In a November 4th Union Leader article, "Northern Pass scares buyers, lowers values," Northern Pass spokesman Michael Skelton dismissed as biased opinion, not fact, the statements of two respected owner/broker realtors that the proposed project has already diminished property values along the intended route by as much as 50%. Skelton shifted the focus by asking whether people stopped
"visiting New Hampshire after the existing high-voltage transmission line from Quebec was built 20 years ago."

The relevant question that Skelton should have asked was: did that high voltage transmission line from Quebec reduce property values 20 years ago?

The answer is: yes, according to a property tax abatement order issued by the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA)* in 1992.

Before the BTLA issued that order, however, the developer of the high voltage direct current line from Quebec, the New England Hydro Transmission Company, Inc., had hired a local appraiser, Stewart Lamprey of Meredith, to assess "what economic impact, if any, transmission lines have upon adjacent property values."

Mr. Lamprey concluded that "the proximity to overhead high voltage transmission lines has no measurable effect on property values. This appears to be true whether a property is abutting, traversed, or visually affected by a power easement" (n.p., Land Utilization Study Along the Proposed Phase 2 Transmission Line in the State of New Hampshire, Jan. 18, 1986).

In 1986, the NH Site Evaluation Committee approved the Quebec line in part because "no contradictory evidence was introduced to rebut Mr. Lamprey's testimony" (p.15) that the project would have negligible effect upon property values."

But in 1992, two landowners along the Quebec line whose request for a property tax abatement had been turned down by their municipality, Wentworth, successfully appealed the decision with the BTLA,  which agreed that the new power line had a "significant chilling effect" on property values. We have no count at this time of how many abatement requests were granted by towns, obviating the need for appeals to the BTLA, nor how many appeals may have been filed in Superior Court rather than with the BTLA. Given the BTLA's response to these two appellants, however, it is likely that there were more than a few. 

 In 1987, the appellants purchased land and buildings in Wentworth for $135, 000. They were unaware that New England Hydro was about to construct Hydro-Quebec transmission towers on the right of way on the property. In 1989 and 1990, the town assessed the property at $133,800. The landowners appealed the assessment to the BTLA. Their appeal included the following arguments:

(2) since the date of purchase [the developer, New England Hydro] has erected Hydro-Quebec transmission towers in the right-of-way;
(3) a 350 ft. by 1400 ft. power line easement results in less than 1/2 acre of usable land;
(4) the Property is "unmarketable at any price";
(5) they paid too much for the Property because they weren't aware of the major "imminent expansion" by [the developer]. (
p. 1

BTLA found the arguments compelling, citing both the visual impact and stigma associated with EMF radiation from high voltage lines:

(1) the fact that through ignorance of the Hydro-Quebec expansion the Taxpayers paid too much for the property should not go unadjusted;
(2) the knowledge of the impending construction of the Hydro-Quebec line would have a significant chilling effect on the value dwelling (and in general the property) in such close proximity due to both its visual effect and the uncertainty of the health concerns raised by electromagnetic radiation [emphasis added];
(3) owing to the close proximity (within 50 ft. according to the Taxpayers) of the house to the edge of the right-of-way...in the very shadow of the tower, the Board applies a 50% reduction to the total value and leaves the allocation of value between land and building to the Town. (
p. 2)

BTLA reduced the town of Wentworth's assessment of $133,800 to $66,900, a 50% decline in valuation.  

Towns and landowners along the intended path of the proposed new Hydro Quebec line would do well to learn from history -- before it is too late. As did the developer of the first Hydro Quebec line, Northern Pass is already asserting that power lines have  little to no effect on property values.

As for Northern Pass, will it also dismiss the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeal's 50% reduction of the value of a property impacted by Hydro Quebec towers as a biased opinion by people who opposed power lines -- or file an ethics complaint?
*Appointed by the supreme court of New Hampshire, the three full-time members of the BTLA are "learned and experienced in questions of taxation or of real estate valuation and appraisal."  Board members "do not engage in any other employment during their terms that is in conflict with their duties as members of the board."

Hydro-Quebec HVDC tower, Wentworth NH


Friday, November 2, 2012

Property Values, Appraisals, and Northern Pass: A Timeline to November 1, 2012

Transmission developers in New Hampshire have never experienced challenges to their claim that power lines have no appreciable impact on property values. Until now.


In 1985, New England Hydro-Transmission Electric Company, Inc., the developer of New Hampshire's first HVDC power line running from Monroe to Sandy Pond, Massachusetts, engaged a New Hampshire property appraiser, Stewart Lamprey, to determine "what economic impact, if any, transmission lines have upon adjacent property values."

Mr. Lamprey concluded that "the proximity to overhead high voltage transmission lines has no measurable effect on property values. This appears to be true whether a property is abutting, traversed, or visually affected by a power easement" (n.p., Land Utilization Study Along the Proposed Phase 2 Transmission Line in the State of New Hampshire, Jan. 18, 1986).

No one challenged Lamprey's finding; no landowner submitted a "before and after" property value appraisal to the NH Site Evaluation Committee (SEC). Indeed, in issuing the construction permit for Phase 2, the SEC specifically noted that "no contradictory evidence was introduced to rebut Mr. Lamprey's testimony" (p.15) that the project would have negligible effect upon property values.

That was then; this is now. Following is a timeline of the very different trajectory that the discussion of property value impacts of the proposed Northern Pass project has taken between April 12, 2011 and November 1, 2012.


April 12, 2011. James G. Dannis and Alexandra M. Dannis file an EIS scoping comment that consists of a certified appraisal of the impact of the proposed Northern Pass alternate route, which would bisect selected parcels of their land in Dalton. The appraiser, James C. Walker, White Mountain Appraisals, Inc., finds that the bisected parcels would decline in value from 63% - 92%. Mr. Walker notes that "parcels bisected by an HVTL line are a special case in which the entire parcel is changed dramatically. The highest and best use is often degraded from residential use to ancillary use" (p. 52), essentially to land that an abutter might wish to acquire inexpensively.

April 26, 2011Northern Pass posts a blog, "Appraising Appraisals . . .," that questions the analysis and credibility of the Dalton appraisal. The blog links to a 2008 "study of studies" by appraiser James A. Chalmers that finds average impacts of power lines on property values in the 3% - 6% range. The studied studies draw their source material from Illinois, Washington, Nevada, California, Missouri, New York, Maine, Connecticut, Minnesota, Tennessee, several Canadian provinces, and New Zealand. (Chalmers's 2008 study was republished in an appraiser journal in 2009.)

May 27, 2011. Brian C. Underwood, appraiser and chair of the New Hampshire Real Estate Appraisal Board (NHREAB), submits a "preliminary study" commissioned by Northern Pass on the effect of HVTLs in the towns of Deerfield and Littleton. Underwood does not appraise but reviews sales and other data for eight properties in Deerfield and Littleton and concludes that there is no "market evidence . . . that would indicate diminution of property value due to high voltage transmission lines."

June 2011. Northern Pass's law firm files a complaint with the NHREAB against James Walker for acting unprofessionally and claims that his appraisal of the Dalton property may have "unfairly" harmed Northern Pass. (NHPR's Chris Jensen reports the story here.)

July 6, 2011. Northern Pass posts a second blog on property values, "Deerfield Takes a Look at the Northern Pass," that links to a Union Leader article reporting how the Town of Deerfield engaged its assessing office and contracted an engineering firm, Avitar Associates, to gauge how the proposed HVTL project would impact property values. They conclude that six properties would be "directly affected," with another 57 "marginally affected." No percentage values of decline are assigned.

July 25, 2011. Northern Pass posts a third blog on property values, "Considering property value impact." It links to another "study of studies," by Russell Thibeault, commissioned in 2011 by Northeast Utilities. Thibeault's review of the literature concludes that prior studies, including Chalmers's, find that HVTLs have a "modest or no measurable impact upon property values." Thibeault also includes the caveat that "your mileage may vary." The blog also links to Underwood's "preliminary study" report (see May 27, above.)

January 20, 2012. In its January 2012 promotional newsletter to landowners with PSNH rights-of-way, Northern Pass summarizes Underwood's study and says that its finding are consistent with prior research and published reports such as Chalmers's (2008).

May 9, 2012. Responsible Energy Action LLC (REAL) posts a blog, "Northern Pass's Appraisal Expert Recants and Zaps Northern Pass," reporting on a new, 2012 study by Chalmers that radically revises the conclusion of his 2008 "study of studies" first cited by Northern Pass on April 26, 2011. Now, Chalmers finds that rural residential land near HVTLs in Montana declines in value up to 50%.

May 25, 2012/May 29, 2012. Northern Pass posts a response to REAL's May 9th blog, revises it a few days later, and reposts it as "Revisiting Property Value Impact." The blog implies a difference between the rural residential properties in Chalmers's 2012 study (Montana) and those in New Hampshire.

October 8, 2012. Andrew Smith, Broker/Owner, Peabody & Smith Realty, Inc., Franconia NH, testifies by letter to the 361 Commission. Smith notes that the proximity of the proposed Northern Pass line "taints" actual properties in New Hampshire, either making them unmarketable or reducing values between 25% to 50%.

November 1, 2012. NHPR reporter Christopher Jensen interviews Chalmers for an article on the complaint brought by Northern Pass's law firm against James Walker's appraisal of the Dalton property. Chalmers says to Jensen that property value declines of 50% - 60% or more are credible in certain cases:

“If it is basically a view lot and your view is down the valley and you string transmission lines across that valley right in the middle of the view shed and that becomes kind of the dominant feature of the view, I can easily imagine your $200,000 second home might only be a $75,000 second home or a $100,000 second home -- something like that,” [Chalmers] said.

November 4, 2012. Northern Pass spokesman Michael Skelton dismisses the testimony of two owner/broker realtors (including Smith, Oct. 8, above) about the proposed project's impact on property values as the opinions of people "who are openly opposed to Northern Pass" and are not "licensed appraisers"

Friday, October 12, 2012

Who Is Mary Anne Sullivan?

At the center of CLF's charge that Northern Pass Transmission LLC (NPT) exerted undue influence on the selection of the EIS contractor is NPT's counsel, Attorney Mary Anne Sullivan. Who is she?

The Conservation Law Foundation's allegation

"NPT’s counsel – who was once DOE’s top lawyer and still appears to have extraordinary access and influence at DOE – handpicked the new EIS contractor team, with what appears to be minimal DOE involvement. Counsel for NPT acted as the new contractor team’s agent, recruiting the team, pulling together its submission of qualifications and a work plan proposal to DOE, and organizing a face-to-face meeting between DOE, NPT, and the team. It appears DOE conducted no real search of its own, in violation of governing regulations requiring that EIS contractors be chosen 'solely' by DOE" (CLF blog).

Sullivan's career

Sullivan received her J. D. from Yale University in 1976.

From 1977 - 1993, Sullivan was in private practice as a member of the energy group of a Washington D. C. law firm, Hogan & Hartson. She represented oil, gas, coal, and electricity interests before the Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Treasury, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The next phase of Sullivan's career was with the DOE. From 1994 to 1998, she was the DOE's Deputy General Counsel for environment and nuclear programs. In 1998, President Clinton appointed Sullivan as the DOE's top lawyer. She served as General Counsel of the DOE until 2001.

Sullivan then returned to Hogan & Hartson (which subsequently became Hogan Lovells), where she is currently partner. At the top of her list of experience, she includes "representing the developer of a major new electric transmission project in a Presidential Permit proceeding before DOE."

Sullivan's Continuing Involvement with DOE

In the last several years, Sullivan has defended the DOE's troubled loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects against critics. When Russian battery maker Ener1 Inc. went bankrupt, Sullivan argued that it was still a good investment:

"In an interview today, Mary Anne Sullivan, a former DOE general counsel who now serves as head of the law firm Hogan Lovells’ energy regulatory practice in Washington, D.C., said Ener1′s bankruptcy announcement does not mean the company failed to advance the development of lithium-ion batteries.

"'The mere fact that they haven’t been able to make their business case so far doesn’t take away from the fact that they may have made a valuable contribution to the development of advanced batteries that will have a bright future,'
Sullivan said." [January 30, 2012]

"Mary Anne Sullivan, who previously served as DOE general counsel and now heads law firm Hogan Lovells' energy regulatory practice in Washington, D.C., said: "You want the government to be where the private sector sees a risk they won't take. But it calls for judgment. There is no formula that tells you, 'Yes, this will succeed,' or, 'No, this won't.''' [April 8, 2012]

And when Energy Secretary Stephen Chu testified before a house investigation panel in November 2011 concerning Solyndra, another DOE backed renewable energy project that went bankrupt, Attorney Sullivan provided a third-party opinion that justified the legality of the DOE's loan:

"Democrats also plan to tout a letter written by Mary Anne Sullivan, former Energy Department general counsel during the Clinton administration, that says the department's decision to restructure the loan guarantee in February was legal. The letter supports the conclusions made by DOE Chief Counsel Susan Richardson in a February memo that justifies the restructuring." [November 16, 2011]

Sullivan and the First EIS Contractor, Normandeau

Attorney Sullivan initially dismissed calls for removing Normandeau because of conflict of interest (Feb. 16, 2011 letter), but later reversed course because of what she termed "strong expressions of concern by certain members of the public" (March 7, 2011 letter).

Sullivan and the "Well-Organized" Opposition to Northern Pass

In a recent interview concerning opening up public lands to the development of renewable energy projects, Sullivan worries that there will not be enough qualified government staff to move the projects along in a "business-sensitive time frame."

But Attorney Sullivan also worries about what happens when private citizens organize effectively to oppose the development of energy projects on their own land:

But don’t think the delays are only caused by encroachments on public lands. "I’m involved in a transmission project that involves both public and private lands, and I cannot say that the public land section is more difficult. Private land is extremely challenging as well when the opposition is well-organized," Sullivan concluded. [January 31, 2012]

If you would like to reach out and express your thoughts to Attorney Sullivan about the current EIS contractor, her email address is maryanne.sullivan@hoganlovells.com

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Not So Fast, Northern Pass

Not So Fast, Northern Pass

What the September 23rd Easton Meeting Teaches Us

When Northern Pass developers announced on September 19th, nearly four years into the project, that V-string design could allow them to construct 85’ steel lattice HVDC towers in the White Mountain National Forest rather than 100’-135’ towers, REAL asked, what changed? Why this sudden engineering epiphany in Hartford and Montreal?

Now that the air has cleared of the developers’ press buzz over the V-string towers, BNP says, not so fast, Northern Pass. In the first full scale revision of the project website’s “Communities” pages that the developers have just completed under the guise of incorporating the V-string announcement, critical information has disappeared. All proposed tower heights in individual communities have been removed.

Proposed HVDC towns. For each of the thirteen towns below Groveton that lie outside the WMNF and for which Northern Pass has proposed HVDC towers – Bethlehem, Bristol, Campton, Dalton, Franklin, Hill, Holderness, Lancaster, New Hampton, Northumberland, Sugar Hill, Thornton, Whitefield – the developers have removed specific tower heights and substituted the following notice:

“The design of The Northern Pass project continues to be refined as new engineering data is gathered. The project recently announced a proposed design that will lead to reduced structure heights in the White Mountain National Forest. As a result, the Northern Pass team is evaluating whether this design can be applied to the remainder of the DC section of the line. We expect our final proposed structure heights to be announced in the near future.”

Given that the developers have now stretched out a request to the DOE for a 60-day extension into eighteen months and continue to delay their announcement of a “new Coos route” to the point that Wall Street has grown skeptical, the “near future” is not likely to be any time soon. And do not assume that tower heights in non-WMNF towns could be significantly lower. Other than to play as a strategic mitigation card later on, why would Northern Pass withhold such news four years into project planning?

Proposed HVAC towns. For the seven towns south of Franklin proposed for a new HVAC line – Northfield, Canterbury, Concord, Pembroke, Chichester, Allenstown, Deerfield -- the developers have also removed specific tower heights and substituted the following statement in their recent website revision:

“The design of the Northern Pass project continues to be refined as new engineering data is gathered. Northern Pass has determined that the project can be built within the existing Right-of-Way with no requirements for expansion. We expect our final proposed structure heights to be announced in the near future.”

Note what is missing in this statement: Northern Pass makes no mention of the possibility of reduced tower heights from Franklin south. Indeed, without the expansion of the ROW that the developers had planned upon with the benefit of eminent domain, tower heights will almost certainly have to be higher than those previously proposed.

Under cover of the V-string news, the newly revised “Communities” pages on the Northern Pass website have taken all previous proposed tower height information for 140 miles of the project off the table. This comes on top of a project that has taken required alternative routes and a large chunk of the preferred route out of consideration; Northern Pass remains “headless” for some 40-60 miles in northern Coos County. Northern Pass must be the only major infrastructure project in history to offer the public less and less required data as time goes on. Northern Pass’s disrespect for New Hampshire apparently knows no limits.

The yawning information void surrounding Northern Pass has been called out by the Appalachian Mountain Club; it deprives the public of the fair chance to comment upon the project now, during the ongoing scoping period, AMC argues. In lieu of responsible action by the developers to inform the public, the AMC has made a vital contribution by offering the first credible figures on the visual impact of Northern Pass’s proposed towers. Fittingly, the AMC previewed these figures in a public venue open to all, the Easton meeting of September 23, and later released them via conventional news outlets.

The form in which the AMC offers its findings is equally important. While each community deserves and should demand to know what the developers propose within its boundaries, just as each landowner with a ROW is entitled to know such information now (four years in, it has to have been calculated), the project’s sole emphasis on community-based information encourages the “my backyard” myopia that it consistently decries. This narrow view distracts the public from focusing on the cumulative impact of the project upon the state. Emphasis on tower heights out of all context further deprives the public of any meaningful form of understanding visual impact.

The AMC study fills these voids by conservatively assuming a 90’ tower, accepting in good faith the developers’ questionable assertion that the number of towers would not increase, and projecting the real-time visual effects of the project upon New Hampshire. It calculates that for just over one half of the project, the known 120 miles of a probable 200 mile route through New Hampshire, approximately 95,000 acres, from Lancaster to Deerfield, would be visually impacted. Concord would be as hard hit as the state’s scenic heartland to the north.

Over 120 years ago, the AMC evolved out of a dedicated group of biologists and botanists, who first studied the flora and fauna of the White Mountains. These scientists educated the world about the environment of the alpine areas in New Hampshire, and their pioneering efforts led to the conservation and wise use of these special places. Several unique species were preserved as a result, to mention only one obvious public service of the AMC. Today, the AMC continues to fulfill its broad educational mission by informing the public about the effects of Northern Pass.

The AMC’s study says to New Hampshire: take the large view, not the tunnel vision that the developers encourage you to adopt. It is inexcusable that community-specific information, the essential data building blocks, has been removed from the project website, but we must see beyond individual communities or even our own backyards to an encompassing view of what Northern Pass will do to New Hampshire as a whole. 95,000 acres of visual impact . . . and counting.

On September 23rd in Easton, Rebecca Weeks More asked us to take the long view of the White Mountain National Forest. From 1911 on, it was assembled slowly and with painstaking effort for the best public use and should not be subjected summarily to the profit-driven whims of a particular private developer in 2012. And Kenneth Kimball asked us to consider the effects of the project through the wide-angle lens of total visual impact on New Hampshire. Together, Dr. More and Dr. Kimball direct our vision to what the developers would hide from New Hampshire's sight.

The text of More's talk is available here. Audio and written transcripts of other Easton speakers provided courtesy of Brian Tilton are here. The AMC's visual impact assessment is here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What Will You Do?

Cross-posted with permission from "REAL," Responsible Energy Action LLC.

 What Will You Do?

Northern Pass will announce its new route soon, REAL believes.

On September 11, the Northern Pass website posted a copy of the “project overview” presented that same day by project director Anne Bartosewicz to the Platts transmission planning and development conference in Arlington VA. The audience included FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff and Lauren Azar, senior advisor to Energy Secretary Chu.

Bartosewicz’s overview was atypical of Northern Pass’s public statements. It focused in detail upon the opposition to the project. “Almost immediately,” Bartosewicz explained, the project received “negative reactions from residents in Northern NH . . . [who] mobilized through the use of community meetings and protests, newsletters, and social media.”  She further explained that in New Hampshire property rights are held as “sacred” and that the state’s first in the nation primary encourages “political activism” among its citizens.  She posed the question of how developers can “overcome the NIMBY challenges” in siting new transmission.

Bartosewicz’s effort to demonize continuing citizens’ opposition throughout the state as a northern New Hampshire “NIMBY” problem before a national audience confirms REAL’s belief that Northern Pass is gearing up to announce its new route through upper Coos County. We believe there is a substantial probability that this will occur within the next 2-4 weeks.  We base these expectations on conversations with property owners, interested organizations and other sources.  As we explain in this blog, we also base these expectations on our own assessment of Northern Pass’s incentives and potential strategies, most recently evidenced at the Platts conference.

However, we want to emphasize that we believe any route announced in this time frame will remain theoretical. In other words, Northern Pass would announce the proposed route before it has secured all the necessary land rights.  While we expect the announcement to coincide with the confirmation of several additional land acquisitions by Northern Pass, we believe important gaps will remain.  If this is correct, it would mean that the new route announcement would not necessarily accelerate the already delayed project timetable.  The critical step to move the timetable forward is for Northern Pass to acquire all necessary land rights.  In our view, a route announcement without these land rights in hand would likely be, to a large extent, a strategic exercise of smoke and mirrors.

If the route is announced, we expect this could be followed in short order with a new filing with the Department of Energy (DOE) to restart the review process for the presidential permit needed for the transmission line.  The DOE permit process can be restarted without all necessary land rights in place.  This step could give the appearance of new momentum for Northern Pass.

Why would Northern Pass “pre-announce” a theoretical route for which it has not yet obtained full land rights?  We believe there are several reasons why Northern Pass would feel this strategy is in its best interests.

First, Northeast Utilities (NU), now the 100% equity owner of Northern Pass, has come under pressure to shore up its credibility with the securities markets.  Market analysts have recently highlighted the repeated delays in Northern Pass’s timetable and now openly question NU’s projection of a late 2017 “in service” date for the project.  Northern Pass is critically important to NU’s growth story and stock market valuation, and the company has a strong motivation to try to demonstrate some sort of progress.

Second, Northern Pass will wish to create the appearance of momentum and inevitability in order to reduce resistance among landowners who refuse to sell.  Not all landowners will have the time or resources to assess the actual remaining gaps in the route.  We believe Northern Pass may feel that the route announcement will cause anxiety among these landowners and increase its chances of coming to terms with them.

Third, a new route announcement that shows relatively few “gaps” (that is, portions of the route where land rights have not yet been obtained) could increase pressure on governmental bodies and other organizations to work with Northern Pass to find solutions to what it caricatures as “NIMBY” holdouts.  Northern Pass would likely tell the story that “we’re almost there” so “don’t let just a handful of NIMBY landowners prevent our transmission lines.”  We would expect Northern Pass to lobby intensively in Concord to seek assurances of state cooperation on river crossings, road crossings and potentially on use of state land or land rights (for example, highway rights of way) to address the gaps.

Fourth, Northern Pass may expect that a route announcement within the next 2-4 weeks would discourage contributions to and thus undermine the Forest Society’s new “Trees Not Towers” campaign scheduled to conclude at the end of October.  This campaign aims to raise money to fund conservation easements on key blocking parcels along Northern Pass’s likely route.  Northern Pass has a clear incentive to create the appearance of progress in the face of the Forest Society’s significant moves to block the project and to seek to undercut the Forest Society’s efforts.

Fifth, a new route announcement and a restart of the DOE process would create a basis for Northern Pass to re-launch conversations with various stakeholders.  We would expect Northern Pass to make a new round of calls on the relevant federal, state and local government bodies, conservation organizations, and other interest groups to try to build momentum toward “yes” on the project. A new filing with the DOE to restart the presidential permit process could create the impression that the clock is ticking and it is time to try to come to terms with Northern Pass.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, having suffered a number of critical setbacks because of the intense citizens’ opposition to the project throughout the state, Northern Pass is increasingly focused on trying to neutralize this push back, as evidenced in the Platts conference presentation. Northern Pass may see a new route announcement (even one that lacks all of the actual land rights) as a step that could be perceived as shifting strength and momentum from the opposition side to the Northern Pass side.  Northern Pass has a strong incentive to employ strategies that may sap the energy and enthusiasm of the opposition, especially now as it re-surges in Coos County and takes new forms elsewhere.

However, let’s keep a new route announcement for upper Coos County (and a restart of the DOE process) in perspective.  A new route through upper Coos County does not make Northern Pass into a good project for New Hampshire.  A serpentine route cobbled together through upper Coos based on finding landowners willing to sell out is necessarily a random, opportunistic path; it is a manifestly bad route in terms of community, social, environmental, visual, property value and other impacts.  And regardless of any route through upper Coos County, Northern Pass is bad for New Hampshire, our communities and our people.  All of the many reasons the opposition has fought Northern Pass up and down the state will remain in full force after a new route announcement.  Massive, destructive, unnecessary, for-profit, above-ground transmission lines do not belong in New Hampshire, let alone our most pristine areas such as the White Mountain National Forest.  A thousand new alternative routes through upper Coos County would not change this essential fact.

This brings us to the critical question.  What will you do on the day, fast approaching, when Northern Pass announces its new route?  Please think this through now and decide upon your course of action.

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Take a few moments and reflect on all the reasons why Northern Pass is bad for New Hampshire, for your community, and for your friends and family.  Remind yourself why you stand strong in opposition to Northern Pass, and recommit yourself to the opposition effort.
  • Study the new route announcement and talk it over with your family, friends, neighbors and other opposition members.  If we are right and the announcement is largely a “smoke and mirrors” strategy, do your part and explain this to others.  Don’t let Northern Pass’s strategy of misleading the public have its intended effect; instead, make the cynical route announcement into a rallying cry that strengthens the opposition.
  • Make a second donation to “Trees Not Towers” so that the Forest Society can report that during the week following the new route announcement, numerous people dug deep a second time to save New Hampshire from this travesty. (You must donate a first time, of course, to do this; donations do not need to be large to be important.  Give what you are comfortable giving, but please be counted as a donor.)
  • Enter a new scoping comment to share your thoughts about Northern Pass and its strategies.  Every scoping comment becomes part of the permanent record of opposition to the project.  Go here to make a scoping comment.
  • Send project director Anne Bartosewicz and Leon J. Olivier, CEO of PSNH, an email and tell them how you feel as a critical stakeholder in this proposed project.  Here are their email addresses: anne.bartosewicz@nu.com; leon.olivier@nu.com.
  • Spend $0.85 in postage and send a letter to Quebec’s new Premier expressing your feelings about Quebec’s attempt to convert New Hampshire’s territory and greatest assets into Hydro-Quebec’s extension cord:
Premier Pauline Marois
                Édifice Honoré-Mercier, 3e étage
          835, boul. René-Lévesque Est
       Québec (Québec)  G1A 1B4

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Northern Pass and the White Mountain National Forest, Sept. 23

Information Meeting on Northern Pass and the

White Mountain National Forest

Sponsored by the Easton Conservation Commission
Sunday, September 23
3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Easton Town Hall, Rt. 116, Easton NH 03580
Northern Pass is seeking a Special Use Permit from the Forest Service to cross the National Scenic Appalachian Trail and a ten-mile route through the WMNF that includes Easton. The developers do not have an existing right of way through the national forest.
On September 23, the Easton Conservation Commission will sponsor an information meeting on the developers’ effort to cross the WMNF and the A.T., which is federally protected for one-half mile on either side of the footpath.
Rebecca Weeks Sherrill More will deliver the keynote address. A great grand-daughter of John W. Weeks and part-time resident of Lancaster, Dr. More received her Ph.D. in history from Brown University and has recently lectured across the state on the Weeks Act, which established the White Mountain National Forest in 1911.
A panel of members from Responsible Energy Action LLC will address various aspects of Northern Pass’s request for a Special Use Permit, and the Appalachian Mountain Club will present an overview of its newly completed visual impacts analysis along the known 140 miles of the proposed route.
Representatives of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Conservation Law Foundation, and Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests will also participate in the concluding discussion with the audience.
The meeting is free and open to the public.

Bog Pond from South Kinsman: Site of Proposed HVDC Power Line

Monday, August 6, 2012

Wall Street skeptical about Northern Pass

Reprinted by permission of the author.

Published on Concord Monitor (http://www.concordmonitor.com)

Wall Street skeptical about Northern Pass

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

One More Way That Hydro-Quebec's Northern Pass Project Would Hurt New Hampshire's Economy: Fifth Migration

The "fifth migration" refers to the demographic phenomenon of professionals and retirees who move from urban and suburban areas to rural settings that have outstanding recreational and scenic amenities. Jamie White published the following remarks in NHBR.com.

Northern Pass and the Fifth Migration
Jamie White

The Northern Pass project debate has raged around property rights, land values and the destruction of natural beauty on the one hand and potential construction jobs and tax revenues on the other, with little discussion regarding its long-term economic implications on New Hampshire's small communities.

Tourism, many argue, is all that remains for the North Country with the demise of so many industries. Yet writer Peter Wolf has identified a trend, termed the Fifth Migration, which is transforming small communities across the country through the infusion of wealth and capital, leading to economic revitalization at local levels.

Communities that are deemed the most desirable places to live are experiencing an influx of people providing new economic stimulus through investment, transformation and innovation. Now under way for over two decades, this trend is significantly impacting communities across the country.

There have been four previous major migrations of enormous economic and social impact: the wave of European immigrants and African slaves; the westward expansion; the migration to urban cities resulting from the industrial revolution; and the migration of over 100 million people from the cities to the suburbs.

Today's migration is mainly that of professionals, well educated and well trained. Each year, millions are moving to communities distinguished by natural beauty, abundant recreational opportunities, pristine clean air and water, and relatively few social problems -- factors that define so many of our towns in New Hampshire.

It is estimated that they bring with them, or create, over $150 billion in assets annually to these places. These are people who seek more fulfillment and balance in their lives by embracing the traditions and lifestyles our communities offer. Their desire to integrate into our communities without destroying their fabric and character brings new energy and capital that will revitalize our towns economically.

Today's migration is driven by a desire for a better lifestyle, not economic necessity. Although this evolutionary process will have its challenges in terms of planning and managing growth, it will revitalize so many of our small communities by providing a vast array of economic opportunity.

With new capital comes investment in infrastructure, housing and services. That means more employment for local builders, lenders, architects and service providers. It will lead to better and more diverse retail, restaurants, cultural attractions -- activities that are geared for residents, not just tourists. This is long term, consistent and real.

Seniors, too, place a high value on and want to retire to areas of natural beauty, recreation and cultural diversions. The most economically influential group in world history, the baby boomers, is now entering retirement age. Estimates suggest that this generation will inherit in excess of $10 trillion in financial and real assets now in the hands of their elderly parents, a sum that will provide stimulus nationwide to the communities that attract them, transforming them back into productive, vibrant places to live and work.

This is where our economic future lies, not in projects like Northern Pass, which, by its very design, threatens the possibility of our benefiting from this trend by fouling the natural beauty and introducing real health risks.

Arrogantly, Northern Pass remains intransigent on the only the option that maximizes a cash return to its partner, PSNH - the more costly route through the mountains and private land. Burial along pre-softened, public corridors would achieve its objective of bringing power to its southern clients without jeopardizing our future. Other states are demanding burial, given new technologies that make it competitive from a cost and reliability perspective.

This migration offers our communities a new opportunity for local economic prosperity and security. We need to ensure Northern Pass and the many other projects slated to follow, do not undermine the very assets that are driving them -- abundant natural beauty and recreational opportunities. These are assets that will shape our future just as they've shaped our past. It is essential they are protected.

Jamie White is founder and principal of a Massachusetts firm committed to developing economic sustainability through design as a means of revitalizing small communities.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Another NH Town Says "No Northern Pass" to Quebec and Hydro-Quebec

Starting with Stewartstown, NH towns have begun writing directly to Quebec's Premier Charest and to Hydro-Quebec to reiterate their staunch opposition to Northern Pass.

Town of Stratford's letter to Quebec

From the Town of Stratford
Published in the Colebrook Chronicle, July 13, 2012

Dear Premier Charest,

The Town of Stratford is following in the steps of our neighboring towns. We too write in protest and complaint regarding the local activities of Hydro-Quebec and its partner, Northern Pass Transmission, LLC and its affiliates. Our town is crippled by the physical, social and political ugliness of this project.

The voters of the Town of Stratford have also made it distinctively clear executing our feelings about Northern Pass by voice, video, letters, and so vividly by signs (as seen continuously through US Rte. 3). This project has also made unforgettable history for the past two years at our Annual Town Meetings.

On March 8, 2011, at our Annual Town Meeting, the voters of Stratford voted to register and disseminate to all concerned its objection, opposition, and commitment to stop the construction of any portion of the 1,200 Megawatt High Voltage Direct Current Transmission Line in the Town of Stratford as presently proposed by Northeast Utilities, NStar, and Hydro-Quebec (commonly known as Northern Pass) since such a huge scar constructed and erected through and above the Town’s treasured residential and scenic private properties will cause inestimable damage to the orderly economic development of the Town, its economy, and the health and wellbeing of its residents, or to take any other action relative thereto. Results of vote: 58 yes, 1 no.

On March 13, 2012, at our Annual Town Meeting, the voters of Stratford voted other than high voltage electrical transmission lines in existence as of the effective date of this ordinance, there shall be no further overhead development of alternating current or direct current high voltage transmission lines within the borders of the Town of Stratford without the benefit and approval of the Town. All such future electrical transmission lines must be placed within power line rights of way. Distribution lines carrying electrical power and other utility lines such as telephone and cable television for local residential or commercial use may continue to be installed above ground, but underground of such lines, is strongly recommended and encouraged. Results of vote: 37 yes; 1 no.

There is no green benefit within Stratford for having the utility line—the green value goes only to states south of us who would be serviced by the utility and who “trade” off their negative green points against points they gain through destroying the North Country. With the loss of mills, the timber industry, related businesses, and businesses that relied on mills and timber, the emptying out of the North Country is well under way. Our citizens are making necessary adjustments, we are now relying on tourism and people moving up here to retire. Your plan to carve out a right of way through our scenic vistas may well mean that we lose forever the one thing we still have, our scenic resources so necessary for our tourists and retirees. This project is suffocating the town’s ability to move forward.

We too agree with our united neighbors that this is causing serious damage to our relationship and feelings towards Quebec. The goals and local methods of Quebec’s crown corporation, Hydro-Quebec, are at irreconcilable odds with our local values and our environment. As the board that represents the Town of Stratford’s stress, dissolving this project would be in the best interest for all who are involved.

Stratford Board of Selectmen
Larry W. Ladd, Chairman
W. Timothy Brooks
Robin Kimball Rheaume

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

PSNH -- NU's Cash Cow

Call it cash cow or workhorse, PSNH leads the herd of Northeast Utilities subsidiaries for anticipated rate increases that investors cherish. New Hampshire rate payers are not surprised.

Northeast Utilities 2012 Deutsche Bank Conference, p. 9

Friday, June 22, 2012

Easement Setbacks: Northern Pass Shoots Itself in the Foot

Easement setbacks are the distances from the edge of the right-of-way (ROW) that utility poles and towers are located. FERC has issued new guidelines concerning setback distances for new overhead power lines.

In a late Friday afternoon post on its website blog for June 22, Northern Pass took a swipe at a video produced by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Entitled "Northern Pass Hurts New Hampshire Families," the video features a young family in Deerfield NH; the PSNH ROW crosses their land. The couple recounts how a PSNH agent approached them and told them that Northern Pass could build as close as 16' to their house. In other words, the setback for a 90'-140' transmission tower and wires would be 0 from the edge of the ROW. This was an attempt to get the couple to grant PSNH more land or rights to widen the existing ROW.

In its post, Northern Pass asserts that the family's house is 20' from the ROW and the centerline of the ROW is therefore 55' from the house (statistics that are irrelevant to the issue of how close to the house Northern Pass would actually construct its towers), says the couple is distorting the truth, and then blames it on the Forest Society.

We'll let you decide who is lying, the Deerfield couple or Northern Pass. But why is Northern Pass so worried about the Deerfield video?

It has partly to do with easement setbacks and how much space utility developers should have on a ROW in order to build a new power line. The most recent guidelines from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), issued May 31, 2012, would stop Northern Pass from building their new overhead transmission line on PSNH's historic, narrow easements, acquired 60 to 80 years ago.

FERC has issued its setback guidelines as the conclusion to its staff study of the massive power outages that resulted from the October 2011 nor'easter snowstorm, which caused estimated damages of $1 billion to $3 billion in New England and adjacent states. It became fashionable among utilities to blame the whole mess on the trees, not on the response to the outages, and, indeed, limbs and branches falling on power lines was the direct reason for much of the problem. But trees are a (splendid) fact of life in the northeast. The immmediate question for FERC was what to do about the overlap of trees and power lines, the ongoing conflict between nature and technology, in this case, overhead high voltage transmission lines. The distribution lines that run along roads and bring power into your house may be able to tolerate contact with trees; high voltage transmission lines cannot.

In the case of existing power lines, FERC sides with the lines. It recommends more prudent and consistent vegetation management -- tree cutting -- by utility companies so that even limbs and branches outside the easement do not endanger existing power lines. Call it eminent-domain-by- vegetation-management if you will.

For new power lines, however, FERC comes down on the side of the existing trees. That is, FERC recommends that new power lines have sufficient set backs to prevent "fall ins" -- trees outside the easement falling in on the lines. The burden is on the developer to acquire wide enough ROWs to accommodate existing and future vegetation conditions outside its easement. Put simply, new power lines should not hug the edges of the ROW.

Here's what FERC said:

Preventing fall-ins from both inside and outside the right-of-way is easier if utilities consider vegetation management needs when siting new transmission lines and acquiring new easements. Therefore, staff recommends that utilities carefully assess vegetation and growth rates in the area of planned lines in order to establish the appropriate right-of-way width. For example, if native trees have a mature height of 100 feet, the easement should cover an area wide enough to ensure that existing and future trees outside of the right-of-way will not fall into the facilities. [Emphases added.]

If native trees, such as New Hampshire's ubiquitous white pines that reach 100', abut the ROW, then new transmission structures should be set back 100' from the edge of the ROW. That only seems like common sense -- and common safety. Responsible utility developers use the wire zone - border zone model, and FERC now recommends that it incorporate fall-in data to ensure safety and reliability.* (Well before FERC's new guideline, the first high voltage direct current line, in western New Hampshire, observed this common sense precaution when it constructed the line in the early 1990's.)

Now go back and watch the Deerfield video again. Presuming that the ROW is fully cleared, tall trees abut the easement. There is no fall-in hazard for the existing power line. But if Northern Pass tries to crowd its new transmission facilities onto this easement, the structures would have to be within the fall-in zone. FERC would conclude that the current PSNH ROW is not wide enough for the safe addition of a new high voltage transmission line.

There are countless examples like this along PSNH's 140-mile existing ROW. One of the more egregious instances occurs in Easton, Lincoln, and Woodstock. Northern Pass proposes to construct two new high voltage lines -- one with 110' poles and the other with 120' towers -- within a 150' width bordered by tall white pines. This will give "tree-hugging" a new definition.

The Deerfield video exposes a fatal flaw in what Northern Pass proposes up and down the narrow PSNH ROW. It's not a question of whether the Deerfield family's house is 16' or 20' from the ROW. It is a much more fundamental question of whether Northern Pass should construct new transmission facilities at all on this ROW.

FERC says no. Before it was prohibited from using eminent domain to seize more land adjacent to PSNH's ROW, Northern Pass agreed that PSNH's easement was too narrow. Northern Pass had planned to use eminent domain to expand the Deerfield ROW as well as those in twelve other communities. Now that it cannot seize the extra land that it needs, Northern Pass apparently plans to proceed full steam ahead anyway and simply overburden the ROW with towers of much greater heights but still insufficient set backs.

The Forest Society is correct. As proposed, Northern Pass would hurt New Hampshire families, whether or not they live next to the ROW. It would overload PSNH's narrow easements and threaten health, safety, and the reliability of the entire electrical grid. Tree-hugging transmission lines are a recipe for disaster in the next big ice, snow or wind storm. FERC has issued the warning.

Don't be fooled if Northern Pass says that it will follow applicable industry standards and requirements concerning the placement of towers on easements. Northern Pass would be referring to the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC). NESC standards concern only the necessary clearances between conductors (live wires) and stationary objects, not the necessary clearances between live wires crowded close to the edge of the ROW and the trees than can fall in upon them from outside the ROW. NESC rules do not include the "real time" safety provisions that FERC is now recommending in its effort to insure the planning of new transmission lines that do not threaten the reliability of the entire grid.

Of course, none of this would pertain if Northern Pass buried the lines. Underground "light" cables do not require much clearance space, and this innovative technology is the answer for developers who want to add new lines to already overcrowded ROWs. The technology exists now to build new high voltage transmission lines that would not harm New Hampshire's families, environment, and economy. Maine, Vermont, and New York will all be using this underground technology. It is widely used in Europe, which has the same crowded conditions for utilities as New England does. Why would New Hampshire accept any less?

If you are concerned about the safety and reliability of the new high voltage power line that Northern Pass proposes to add to PSNH's narrow ROW, you may tell the lead regulatory agency, the Department of Energy, to look into the matter here.

Ask political candidates for NH offices if they are aware of FERC's new guidelines and what they are doing to support and expedite the work of the new study commission to bury high voltage power lines in state transportation corridors.


*study commissioned by FERC in 2004 reached the same conclusion:
 "The ideal transmission line route would be one where vegetation would not grow or fall into the facilities, given reasonable and ongoing maintenance. While this may not be realistic with many lines, it can and should be an objective for the siting of future lines." [Emphases added.]

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Meet the "New" Coos Route

Posted by Responsible Energy Action LLC on June 20, 2012 and reprinted with permission here.

Meet the "New" Coos Route: Same as the Old Route
Responsible Energy Action LLC

Northern Pass’s purchase of zig-zagging strips of land does not constitute community support, does not represent good siting for a transmission line, and does not address the massive problems created by this proposed project. Like the old route, the new Coos route is all about money for PSNH, Northeast Utilities, and Hydro Quebec, not about what is good for New Hampshire. Like the old route, the new route was developed in complete secrecy with no consultation of key stakeholders. And like the old route, the new route sticks New Hampshire with the Northeast’s only proposed transmission project to use antiquated, visually jarring, and health-threatening overhead technology.

It’s not hard to figure out the route that Northern Pass is trying buy up across northern Coos County. A search of the registry for land acquisitions by Northern Pass affiliate, Renewable Properties, Inc., and first-hand reports from alarmed landowners reveal the patchwork collection of parcels that Northern Pass has purchased so far. But the known dots from Pittsburg east to Clarksville and Stewartstown still do not connect into a solid line. And beyond that series of dots, the new route would have to snake its way further east into Dixville, then south through Millsfield and Dummer. From Dummer, it  must reverse course and follow an expanded Coos Loop west to get back to Lost Nation (Groveton).

Representations of a “high level of confidence” to investors notwithstanding, REAL does not believe that Northern Pass will assemble a complete route from Quebec across the New Hampshire border to Lost Nation or to Whitefield by September. Northern Pass may announce a route by September, but we doubt that it will own all the land and rights required to build the project on that route. The major reason for our doubt is that Northern Pass continues to underestimate the resolve of the land owners who have bravely refused to sell their land for this project. There are many courageous northern Coos County landowners holding fast against enormous pressure; they value their heritage and environment more than all of the Hydro Quebec dollars stuffed into Northern Pass’s war chest.

Northern Pass’s land agents are desperately trying to fulfill Olivier’s prediction.  They have had to resort to pressure tactics, including morally repugnant efforts to pay relatives of the heroic landowners to convince them to sell out to Northern Pass and give their land over to the use and control of Hydro Quebec.  But as one land owner has recently written, “material things rust and wear out. Money is soon spent for brief periods of pleasure. Land on the other hand is something that can be passed from one generation to another with many valuable accounts. . . .This is what I choose to leave my children and grandchildren. This is what I am fighting for, to keep protected from this foreign invasion, a project of pure greed, not need!

Substantively, however, it will not matter even if Northern Pass is somehow able to connect the dots this summer and weave its new route back and forth across Coos County. The new route will still be the same as the old route, if not worse.

REAL will answer three questions here:
  • What you can expect to hear in the press release if Northern Pass is ever able to patch together the new route;
  • Why the “new” route will be the same as the “old” route, if not worse;
  • Why New Hampshire is being targeted for an antiquated overhead transmission line while neighboring states benefit from modern underground technologies.

What You Can Expect to Hear

Let’s accept Olivier’s “3rd Quarter” prediction for the moment. What might the announcement look like later this summer? Undoubtedly, Northern Pass will spin stories of community support and cooperative landowners.  They will try to charm us with folksy accounts of their sensitivity to family history and culture.  They will tell us that they have great community relations teams who have soothed all the unrest in the North Country except for a few noisy “special interest groups.”  They will say that the new route has the support of the communities involved—meaning the “underlying landowners.” Above all else, they will assure us that this route is the most environmentally responsible path they could possibly take from the Canadian border to Lost Nation.  And the harder they work to sell this story, the more obvious it will be that it is a complete fabrication. The much anticipated “new route” is the same as the disastrous old route, if not worse.

A Bad Idea Never Gets Better

The “new route” is frighteningly similar to the old route.  The old route was almost universally hated because it destroyed property values, threatened health and safety, and ruined the untouched open spaces that feed the most significant remaining industry in Coos County:  tourism.  The new route will be equally detested for the same reasons. The old route was rejected by every community that it passed through. The new route will evoke the same community condemnation. The old route represented the most expedient way to get Hydro Quebec’s power through Coos County on its way to Boston.  The new route will represent the next most expedient “extension cord.” The old route ran along a take-no-prisoners north-south line from Pittsburg to Lost Nation because it was predicated on the availability of eminent domain authority. After it traverses east across Coos County, the new route may also request eminent domain authority for the final leg that reverses course and strikes due west on the Coos Loop to Lost Nation.

So, what is different about the new route? It’s longer. Once it snakes its way east, then south, and then west back to Lost Nation along the Coos Loop, through Stark, the new route threatens to add up to 50% more clear cut ROWs than the old route. Moreover, it threatens to add up to 50% more visually jarring towers that destroy property values; up to 50% longer transmission lines that threaten health and safety; and up to 50% more negative impact on the tourism industry. Another difference is that the new route will almost certainly try to clear cut a new wide swath through the White Mountain National Forest in Stark, destroying more majestic vistas.

That’s it.  The new route is nothing more than the old route but longer, more detrimental to public land that has been preserved for its scenic value and more damaging to private land and businesses.
Does the new route form the least environmentally damaging way through Coos County?  Does it provide us with the least visual impact from transmission lines and towers up to 140’?  Is it that the new route attracts the most community support?  Does it provide the most separation from residents, who fear proximity to High Voltage Transmission Lines? Does it incorporate the results of honest consultation and open dialogue with the real stakeholders, especially the agencies and conservation groups that serve as stewards of preserved land in Coos County and the town governments, which speak for the majority of the actual residents of Coos County?

No.  The new route does none of these.  As the new route took shape, it became a cynical game of connecting the dots in which socioeconomic and environmental impacts simply never mattered:  each parcel was just a piece in a puzzle.  There was no consideration of wetlands, habitats, scenery, history, community, culture, or safety.  There was no consultation about the new route with conservation agencies or with towns. Indeed, Northern Pass has pursued the new route in complete silence and utmost secrecy with individual sellers, often non-residents, whom they prohibited from discussing transactions. Abutting neighbors and communities were left to worry whether their land and livelihoods would be impacted. There was never any effort to work with stakeholders to design the best technology. The sole consideration for the new route was land acquisition — location and price. Could the parcel fit into the patchwork route? What was the asking price? And in time, price no longer mattered. Outrageous sums were offered. The new route emerged as the sum of the parcels that Northern Pass could string together and buy outright with its virtually unlimited funds from Hydro Quebec. When Northern Pass was blocked from using eminent domain to seize the old route, it did not take the message to heart and consult with stakeholders; instead, it opened up its war chest and tried to buy the next most expedient route.

Northern Pass is busy inventing stories of caring land agents who were sensitive to individual’s concerns.  They are creating tales of landowners selling easements for the good of their communities.  They are finding ways to pretend that they considered the economic, cultural, and environmental impacts of their chosen route.  The truth is that they did absolutely nothing of the sort.  They looked at Coos County as a business problem:  what do we need to do to get from the Canadian border to Groveton and how much will it cost?  As they purchased parcels, adjoining parcels became more valuable to them – while non-adjoining parcels became worthless to them. Too bad for you if your property value plummets because your land was not needed. Too bad for you if Northern Pass hired your relatives to harass you into selling your land. In the end, money and pressure tactics prevailed.  Keep all this in mind if you ever hear Northern Pass’s narrative of community support, landowner cooperation and environmental sensitivity. It’s nothing more than self-serving rubbish.

Why Is New Hampshire Being Exploited?

This leads to the final question:  When it comes to efforts to link Boston/Hartford/NYC with Canadian power, why does New Hampshire get the short end of the stick, suffering with the only proposal for tall above-ground towers and 150’ to 425’ wide clear cut rights of way running through the most scenic and treasured landscapes we have, including the White Mountain National Forest?  In contrast, there are two other new HVDC transmission line proposals that would connect Boston/Hartford/NYC with Canadian power via HVDC transmission lines:  one in Maine called the “Northeast Energy Link”; the other in Vermont and New York called the “Champlain Hudson Power Express.”  Both of these HVDC projects in our neighboring states have been planned as underground and underwater projects with no overhead towers and transmission lines.

Why is New Hampshire alone being exploited?  Is it because we have a weak and compliant regulatory environment?  Is it because we have a revolving door that allows former employees of NU or its affiliates who have NU pensions and other conflicts to become PUC commissioners and to rule on any and all proceedings in which NU has an interest?  Is it because we have a revolving door that allows a powerful law firm representing Northern Pass to hire the retiring Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission? Is it because we have political donations that are regularly made by NU officials and lobbyists to key politicians in Washington and Concord?  Whether or not the actual answers to these questions are all affirmative, the public perception is that each and every one of the above reasons explains why the NU/Northern Pass/Hydro Quebec cabal dares to bully New Hampshire.

The new Coos route – just more of the same, but longer. Bad ideas never get any better. There’s no more reason for New Hampshire to accept the route this time than there was last time.

Note: for more information on the new route, see this post from the Conservation Law Foundation.