Wednesday, August 3, 2016

An Icy Glare from Northern Pass

Coos County Democrat
August 3, 2016
An icy glare from Northern Pass
In May, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services issued a letter about Northern Pass. DES appeared to suggest that the 192-mile hydropower transmission project needed to do more to minimize construction impacts on wetlands and other sensitive areas. The regulator's letter pointed toward the desirability of a new route and more line burial in Coös County. Although DES was not making official conclusions against issuance of needed permits, Northern Pass must have felt some doubts about the viability of the project's preferred route. With a recent response to DES, however, the project gave an icy glare to a regulatory entity.

This editor must give some credit to Northern Pass. The project's financial backers have already spent a great deal of money examining the project's impacts on wetlands. In public hearings and letters, some critics of Northern Pass concede the the project's wetlands analysis was well done. Northern Pass is not just going through the motions on the application process. There seems to be a legitimate interest in decreasing certain wetlands impacts while promoting the state fund that provides money to protect wetlands in other parts of the state.

However, the project may not have made the best decisions in the recent response to DES. Instead of really detailing the project's commitment to lessening impacts on the environment, Northern Pass stressed how the state cannot push back too hard. By doing so, Northern Pass suggested time and again, the big money making dream that is the proposed transmission line might not happen. The DES ideas on further line burial to protect more wetlands "is not practicable," Northern Pass brazenly asserted.

The state's Site Evaluation Committee, which will make the call on whether the project receives a construction permit, should be watching the Northern Pass wetlands debate quite closely. As the project keeps its eye on the prize, earning billions of dollars over the next few decades, the SEC needs to remember who the big money maker from Northern Pass will be, Hydro Quebec. The company, as this editor likes to say over and over again, makes $370,000 of profit every hour. Regardless of what Northern Pass wants state regulators to believe, Hydro Quebec has plenty of money to fully bury the project in a way that satisfies New Hampshire. The extra $1 billion to achieve complete burial might make Northern Pass "uneconomic" to those whose first desire is to placate a foreign monopoly like Hydro Quebec. But the project needs to remember that regulators must be satisfied with how issues like wetlands impact are resolved.

The late Ray Burton inspired us in so many ways. Perhaps his finest hour occurred during testimony at Northern Pass hearings. Burton said Hydro Quebec needs to find the money to fully bury the line, or fold its tent and go home. Anyone examining Hydro Quebec's financial statements can see the money is there. Just because the company does not want to spend four months of profit to make New Hampshire happy does not mean state regulators must fall into line. DES, the SEC, and all other state entities with a dog in the Northern Pass fight must remember that they work for us, not the shareholders of a foreign government. Northern Pass will place Hydro Quebec's financial well being at the forefront, but there is no reason for regulators to cower before the mighty monopoly. The residents of the North Country certainly are not doing so.