Saturday, April 28, 2012

An Open Letter on Northern Pass to Representative Charles F. Bass

Attorney Alan Robert Baker, Columbia, responds to Representative Bass and requests that Northern Pass's Presidential Permit application be rejected as stale and incomplete.

April 28, 2012

Representative Charles F. Bass
114 North Main Street
Concord NH 03301-4946

Re: Northern Pass Transmission LLC

Dear Representative Bass:

Thank you for your April 16, 2012 letter and the position you are taking on the ill-advised Northern Pass project. As proposed, and now as newly planned, Northern Pass would destroy some of the most scenic landscapes in our state, especially in Coos and Grafton Counties—not to mention the White Mountain National Forest. Our tourism industry in Coos is highly dependent on our beautiful natural environment. Our forested mountains, farms, lakes and rivers are our most important assets—indeed they symbolize our way of life. They are a part of our heart and soul.

The threatened presence of four or five hundred steel towers carrying huge cables coursing their way through newly cleared 150 to 200 foot corridors in Pittsburg, Clarksville, Stewartstown and Dixville is a criminal concept; and I fear every day for the potential loss threatened by Northern Pass. I also fear for the disruption this would cause and is causing to the lives of people who would have to live within sight of this visible scar and its towers memorializing the worst of the urban sprawl environment that we have so carefully avoided.

It is not just northern Coos County that would suffer. In southern Coos County and Grafton County and on south to Deerfield, Northern Pass claims it would use existing rights of way where the project will ultimately boast up to a thousand steel towers in excess of 120 feet high over existing rights of way—rights of way that were acquired 60 to 80 years ago for essential transmission and distribution of power to the people of New Hampshire. The existing structures in those rights of way are 40 to 50 foot high wooden poles. The contrast will be enormous. And who paid for those transmission line rights of way? The rate payers and taxpayers of New Hampshire paid for those rights of way. Now foreign corporations are proposing to trash our landscapes and use the people’s rights of way for the private transmission of power that is not needed and which those corporations alone will control. The primary reason for the Northern Pass proposal is for the exclusive use and profit of a foreign government-owned corporation (Hydro Quebec) and for the profit ($68 million per year) of an out-of-state holding company now headquartered in the Hartford and Boston areas(Northeast Utilities). These corporations are quite simply trying to convert an asset paid for by the people of the State of New Hampshire into their own private corporate piggy bank.

The scoping hearings held last year by the DOE made it very clear where the people stood on this proposal. Indeed, over 30 towns impacted by the Northern Pass proposal have now gone on record as opposing the Northern Pass project—with virtually unanimous votes in opposition. In my opinion, you and our other congressional representatives in Washington should now be asking the following questions:

1. How can the DOE allow the Northern Pass Application for Presidential Permit to sit in limbo on its docket with no concern for the public rights to be free of such threats and intimidation?

2. Why has the DOE not addressed the timely Motions filed to dismiss the proceedings on this Application?

3. How can the DOE refuse to post the continuing public comments on its EIS website at the same time that it permits Northern Pass to post whatever it wants?

4. How can most of the people in Coos County protect their property values and make intelligent decisions regarding their property when Northern Pass continues its refusal to disclose the ultimate route that it will take through northern Coos County?

I believe that the DOE should dismiss the current Presidential Permit Application as stale and incomplete. DOE should require Northern Pass to start over if it still intends to pursue its ill advised venture. This would help restore public confidence in the process and the ability of our governmental agencies to apply its rules even-handedly. This would also send a message to utility adventurers that they cannot use federal agencies as a playground for running flags up the flagpole to see who salutes and then stall the process while they find a new flag to fly. It would also give those who decide in the future to protect their interests the right to intervene in any new Presidential Permit Application filings. As things now stand, the time limit for timely intervention in the pending Presidential Permit proceedings of Northern Pass expired 16 months ago.

Again, I want to thank you for your thoughtful and principled position on the Northern Pass project as expressed in your April 16, 2012 letter. Please let me know if you would like any further information or if I can be of assistance in the future.

Very truly yours,

Alan Robert Baker

cc: Brian Mills, DOE (via fax 202-586-8008)
Responsible Energy Action LLC

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hydro-Quebec's "long extension cord"

The rhetorical trope of the Northern Pass high voltage direct current transmission line as a long extension cord is common in Opposition comments on the project. Where did it originate?

Opposition members frequently refer to Northern Pass's proposed HVDC transmission line as an "extension cord." This figure of speech is apt insofar as an extension cord connects a power source to an end-user application or appliance. And an extension cord is a dedicated, exclusive conduit, as the Northern Pass line would be for Hydro-Quebec. But the Opposition also uses the extension cord metaphor or simile because it is entirely inaccurate in a major respect and thereby points to a fundamental problem with Northern Pass: the way in which project proponents try to dismiss or minimize its impact.

That is, an extension cord is innocuous, relatively invisible. It is so much a part of the background that UL recommends bright safety colors (ironically, orange) to make it stand out. In contrast, a 140-mile transmission line that runs through more than 1800 individual parcels of private land, over the White Mountains, and down the narrow corridor valleys of New Hampshire on 135' steel towers spaced every 600'-800' would be anything but invisible and innocuous. By implication, an extension cord is only important in terms of what it connects to what, energy source to user, not for the inconsequential gap between the two. In contrast, the 140 mile route through New Hampshire is anything but a negligible gap to be closed; it brims with life, commerce, residences, hopes, dreams, heritage.

Although the extension cord analogy ironically points to what project apologists now ignore, the Opposition did not invent it. To James Robb, senior vice president for planning and development at Northeast Utilities, goes the apparent credit for coining it in a New York Times column on June 15, 2009:

A 'long extension cord' to cool New England

Hydro-Québec, the Montreal-based utility, has power to spare in summers, when New England needs it to meet peak demand driven by air conditioning. The DC line would start in its system and deliver power to New England over a closed cable that would bypass the alternating current (AC) grid en route. It assures Hydro-Québec that its power will go through whether or not the AC grid is congested, and it knows the transmission costs will be fixed in advance by contract, Robb explained.

"For Hydro-Québec, it's like having a long extension cord," Robb said. Northeast Utilities and NSTAR, the Boston-based power company that is its partner in the project, would build and pay for the line. Hydro-Québec would pay the companies for its use, based on the construction costs and a return. The Canadian company will sell the power competitively to utilities via long-term contracts, Robb said. "The market risk is borne by Hydro-Québec," he added. The project would provide a certain outlet for its power as it proceeds with a major expansion of hydropower facilities in its region.

Northern Pass apologists no longer use the extension cord analogy because it ironically draws attention to what they would minimize: the impact of the towers on New Hampshire's economy and environment -- and all that to run air conditioners in Boston in the summer. But back in 2009 and well into 2010, project officials were still telling it like it would be if the project were ever built.

For more early "straight talk" on Northern Pass by PSNH, see Patrick McDermott's prophetic 2010 comments on how hard it would be to sell the project to New Hampshire.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why the Free Ride for the Utilities?

Plymouth resident Peter Martin, a member of the No Northern Pass Coalition, is a former commercial airline pilot. In this guest blog, he questions why utility companies get a free ride on rights-ofway.

Why the Free Ride?
Peter Martin

Of all the privileged corporate special interests, it seems that electric transmission companies long ago lapped the field in terms of abusing the public and dodging their fair share of rent and taxes.  All they need is PUC approval and, if they can claim rate based status, they get to use the power of eminent domain.  In many states (though thankfully not in NH), even private, for-profit projects get to use eminent domain taking of other people’s property.

But gaining a right of way (ROW) over other people’s property is just the beginning of the good deal for the power companies.  They are expected to pay fair market value to landowners for the right of passage across their lands; however, that is a one time payment.  They keep the right of way status in apparent perpetuity, but never pay again for the continuing use of the property.  Meanwhile, they continue to depreciate the power line infrastructure, paying ever less in taxes, while the owner of the property on which the ROW is located not only does not financially benefit from the corporate use of his/her land, but is required to pay taxes on the land crossed by the power lines. Over time, the power company pays less and less tax, the landowner pays more and more.

Along with long distance trucking and airlines, the transmission of electrical energy is considered to be interstate commerce by the federal government.  Long haul trucks pay continuing road usage taxes for the privilege of using the public highways.  Airlines pay landing fees every time they touch down at a next destination.  Both trucking and aviation are paying a fair share of the cost to maintain the public’s property.  How about the electric transmission companies?  They don’t pay taxes or rent for the privilege of using public or private property.  Is there any other entity that gets to utilize other people’s property for nothing?  I can’t think of one example.

It is long past time to put an end to such an injustice to both the public in general and to individual landowners.  The best way to right this outrage is for the state to designate public ROW corridors along highways, and other publicly owned property, in which all high voltage lines must be buried.  To use such corridors, the transmission companies will be required to pay annual royalties to the state.  Power companies would finally pay their fair share and, since they will be using a public ROW, they will not have any excuse to ask for the power of eminent domain.

Presently, members of the legislature are investigating the public corridor idea.  We mustn’t let an opportunity to fix this long standing, unfair situation pass us by.  There is no downside to this idea, but there are a number of advantages for the state: money for the state treasury; no destruction of property values, tourist economy or aesthetics; and no excuse to use the power of eminent domain. 

SB 361, which would establish energy infrastructure corridors in NH, will soon come to a full House vote and, if approved, return to the Senate for a vote on the bill and its amendment. Please take the time to call, e-mail or write your house representative and senator and let them know that you want corridor legislation passed ASAP.             

Monday, April 2, 2012

What We Would Say to Northern Pass If We Could: Newsletter 3.0

You posted your Newsletter 3 to landowners today. It's another one-way communication, from you to us. If your online Journal were willing to post real responses, or if project "liaisons" were willing to give real answers, we would not be using this blog to tell you our reactions to what you have written. But you have never been willing to enter into honest dialogue with those who oppose your project. Your representatives pull out of public sessions if they discover that they must share the floor with opposition members for an actual debate. The most recent example is the upcoming Seacoast Republican Women's meeting in Portsmouth this month. Mike Skelton and Anne Bartosewicz retracted their early commitment to participate to avoid facing the opposition.

So here is what we would say to you about each of the four sections of your Newsletter 3.0 -- if we could.

"Checking In with Landowner Outreach Specialists"

Your attempt to humanize your sales people, whom you call "landowner outreach specialists," with personal interest stories is irrelevant to us. These are your employees, not our friends. Your piece belongs in an in-house publication along with shout-outs for service awards and retirements, notices about company picnics, and such. We do not hate your sales people per se; indeed, we have no interest in them one way or the other. We hate what they do for a living. Wouldn't you? They work to take our land, heritage, livelihoods, and assets from us. They are the "face" of the project that you push to the front so that Anne Bartosewicz and other "important" project personnel do not have to deal with the inconvenience of people like us, who don't buy what you are trying to sell. Take it from us, you can scrap this effort next time.

"Project Update"

You tell us about your progress in buying up land in upper Coos County. Why tell us this? Your newsletter is addressed to people with existing rights-of-way, not to those in upper Coos County.  What owners on the Lower 140 want to know is how you will update your figures about "most common tower heights" in the post-HB 648 world. On your website, before 648 was passed into law, you listed 13 towns in which you wanted to expand rights-of-way for a total of some 20 miles, and you give a "most common tower height" for each town based on those desired expansions.

Length of ROW to be expanded (in miles)
Most Common
NP Tower Heights
(in feet)






Concord (Preferred)

Concord (Alternate)


Franklin (Preferred)

Franklin (Alternate)

Hill (Preferred)

New Hampton


Pembroke (Preferred)

Pembroke (Alternate)



Now that you have no access to eminent domain to take land for these expansions, what are the true "most common tower heights" for these thirteen towns? (And, while we're on the subject, what does "most common tower height" mean?) How tall will the tallest towers really be in Allenstown, Concord, Deerfield, where you had already admitted to 110' when you thought you could take land by eminent domain to expand ROWs? These are the kinds of things landowners want honest updates on.

"NH Transmission: Connecting Power Sources to Customers"

Thanks for the Transmission 101 lecture, but your analogy is false. Transmission towers and lines are not like long-haul truckers or trucks. 18-wheelers deliver their products and disappear. Your 135' steel towers will be there ruining our landscapes continuously and permanently, along with the subsequent towers and lines you will want to build.

 "Transmission Line Corridors: More than Poles and Wires"

You write that someone's preliminary research paper shows that cottontail rabbits and certain birds thrive on clear cut ROWs. Really? Even if it's true, are you seriously proposing this as a rationale for Northern Pass? The plague created outstanding job opportunities in 14th century England and on the continent, but the price was tragically, unacceptably steep.

If we could, what we'd finally ask you is, do you truly believe that people will fall for this newsletter?

Or is this your April Fool's joke on us?