Wednesday, February 3, 2016

"Uneconomic" argument has never made sense

Hydro Quebec’s finances belie claims that burying Northern Pass would be "uneconomic"

Littleton Courier
February 3, 2016

Could there be a financial crisis at Hydro Quebec? The company experienced a drop in profit for the first nine months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014. Rather than $2.545 billion, revenue minus expenses nosedived to $2.472 billion. Hopefully, Chief Executive Officer Eric Martel is not suffering a big decline in lifestyle because Hydro Quebec made $73 million less through September 2015 than the year before. After all, Martel and his business partner, Eversource Energy, need as much comfort and strength as possible to convince New Hampshire that burying all of Northern Pass is "uneconomic." That interesting word is the invariable refrain from supporters of Northern Pass when answering questions about why the entire 192 miles of electricity transmission line cannot be buried.
The "uneconomic" argument has never made sense. Hydro Quebec, which will pay the cost to build Northern Pass, is an incredibly wealthy entity. The company seems quite pleased with the third quarter 2015 results. After all, the $73 million reduction in profit compared to the year before is a drop in the bucket when you know your owner, the government of the province, will always have your back.
Residents heard many questions and answers from Northern Pass recently. Last month, another round of public hearings took place in the five counties where the power line would run. Residents have another shot, likely in March, when a quorum of the Site Evaluation Committee, the state entity that will determine the fate of Northern Pass, convenes in each of the five counties again. An ocean of orange shirts – the color of opposition to the project – will be vibrant once more, and the active citizens opposing Northern Pass will be prepared to deliver additional testimony.
The SEC hearings next month will likely provide some time for comedy, as well. Examples seen in Lincoln at the January hearing included a person handing Bill Quinlan, President of Eversource, an orange shirt. Or, when tireless Northern Pass opponent Nancy Martland of Sugar Hill compared the current proposal, which includes more than 130 miles of above ground lines, to a 1958 Edsel automobile. She then handed Quinlan a small but sleek red sports car toy to symbolize a fully buried power line.
No better argument can be made for why complete burial is "economic" than the riches that keep Hydro Quebec afloat. Any member of the SEC more sympathetic to a multi-billion dollar foreign entity than the demands of Granite Staters will have much explaining to do if a certificate to build Northern Pass does not require full burial. Clearly, the public interest demands it, and Hydro Quebec can afford to do so.
If Northern Pass ever gets built, Hydro Quebec will need to spend a lot of money on the construction phase. Asking a company to use about six months of profit to totally bury the line is not a ridiculous claim by mindless tree huggers in New Hampshire. It is the immensely reasonable plea of people who love the North Country and want to protect its glory as long as humans and creatures enjoy our forests and mountains. By taking that fact to heart, Northern Pass can truly prove it listens to people by finding enough money in a seemingly endless bag of treasure to completely bury the power