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: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.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
Édifice Honoré-Mercier, 3e étage
835, boul. René-Lévesque Est
Québec (Québec) G1A 1B4