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.