Guest commentary by Nancy Martland, Sugar Hill, published by the Laconia Citizen, 12/27/2013, and republished here with permission.
Northern Pass: No Exchange, No Returns
By Nancy Martland
It’s happened to all of us. You’re given a beautiful package wrapped in shiny paper with pretty ribbons that you just can’t wait to open. Inside you find a tangerine and purple sweater with a lime green teddy bear appliqué in a size you haven’t worn for at least 20 years. After a moment of stunned silence, you automatically thank the giver -- it’s the thought that counts, right? Yet, all the good intentions in the world cannot change the fact that this gift is not right for you.
It is for this reason that the customer service window was invented by stores that value customer satisfaction and loyalty. There you can exchange that tangerine job for a nice black wool crew neck that fits and you feel comfortable wearing.
About three years ago, New Hampshire received a package from Northeast Utilities, called the Northern Pass. It was wrapped in pretty paper, and presented to us with a flourish as the best deal we were ever going to see. Once we had it open though, we realized that it didn’t fit, and we didn’t much like it. The shiny wrappings covered unappealing features that made us decide we had to return the package.
Only Northern Pass didn’t have a customer service window. They insisted that we keep it whether we liked it or not. It seemed Northern Pass has a “no returns, no exchange” policy, and New Hampshire is pretty much stuck with whatever white elephant “gift” they want to give us.
What was concealed beneath that shiny paper?
Massive towers through 187 miles of New Hampshire’s signature landscape, our mountains and valleys, our towns and neighborhoods. And just to be clear, we are not talking about a few telephone poles. We are talking about more than 1500 metal lattice towers. With a 30 X 30’ footprint including poured concrete footings, they range from 90 to 135+ feet in height, reaching far above our tallest trees to dominate the landscape. Northern Pass reassuringly told us we would “get used to” these monsters. Kind of like the returns clerk telling you, “Oh, we can’t exchange that. You’ll get used to that lime green teddy on your tangerine and orange sweater.”
In the end, we simply couldn’t keep the package. We found out about an alternative. We learned that technology exists to place the lines underground. NP’s partner, Hydro-Quebec, markets this technology as a cost-efficient low-impact alternative to overhead lines. Yet, Northern Pass insists that burying is too expensive and too impractical. Many disagree with them on this point.
Contrary to Northern Pass claims, this technology, HVDC Light, is practical and reasonably priced. Other energy developers understand this and realize that the public does not object to invisible, secure buried transmission lines. Projects transmitting Canadian power south through Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and Maine will use this technology, and are facing little if any public outcry as they navigate the permitting process. These projects use already softened corridors, such as highways or railroad beds; some lines go underwater. Often there is payment to the state which owns such corridors. In addition to their low impact, underground lines are far less susceptible to weather damage, have fewer faults, and when sited along highways they are easier to get to than aerial lines strung through remote areas. Odds are that these forward-looking underground projects will be in full service while Northern Pass is still tangled in permitting and legal battles that will likely prevent the project from ever being built in its present design.
Curiously, Northern Pass remains unmoved by the sustained objection to this project – not just from individuals whose land is directly affected, but from whole towns that voted to oppose it, 33 of them. They took no notice when Governor Maggie Hassan and Senator Kelly Ayotte told them they ought to put it underground. They did not heed objections from every North Country Chamber of Commerce or all of New Hampshire’s environmental groups. With breathtaking arrogance and utter lack of regard for our iconic landscape and the project’s crippling damage to everyday people, Northern Pass simply plows on, running expensive ads that highlight the shiny paper and pretty ribbons, paying high-priced lobbyists to influence legislators, and acting as if the objections didn’t exist.
If Northern Pass ever expects to run even one foot of high voltage cable through our state, they will need a customer service window, equipped with 187 miles of HVDC Light underground cable for New Hampshire customers who demand to exchange this unwanted gift for a solution that respects our state and its citizens.