Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Battle Of Northern Pass: NHSEC Asked To Suspend Proceedings Over Inaccuracies In Plans

The Battle Of Northern Pass: NHSEC Asked To Suspend Proceedings Over Inaccuracies In Plans

NHDOT Rejects Northern Pass ROW Survey*

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record
August 23, 2017

The Grafton County Commission is asking the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee to suspend its Northern Pass proceedings until the company submits accurate plans and resolves uncertainty about rights-of-way for the burial of lines under state highways.

At the same time, the N.H. Department of Transportation has rejected survey reports prepared by Northern Pass contractors requiring certification that the right-of-way (ROW) lines shown on the plans are accurate locations defined by ground survey and research.

“As stated … from the Bureau of Right of Way, neither of the reports submitted have met that requirement,” NHDOT engineer Melodie Esterberg wrote Northern Pass on Aug. 11. “It is critical that the ROW information on the plans is accurate as this is the basis for the Department to evaluate the proposed alignment of the [Northern Pass line] as it relates to the Department’s infrastructure.”

Additionally, in what is increasingly shaping to be a potential legal challenge, a growing number of towns are voicing concerns about Northern Pass claiming the right-of-way (ROW) width it needs to install underground transmission line could extend to and impact private property along the roads.

“For the accuracy of the plans to still be questioned by none less than the Department of Transportation after the construction panel has allegedly finished testimony is stunning,” Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo, representing the GCC, wrote to the NHSEC.

In a 41-page motion with exhibits, Saffo said Northern Pass has submitted what appears to be more than 100 exception requests for its project, each significant and including exceptions pertaining to ROWs.

“The July 18, 2017 minutes, posted on Aug. 2, 2017, reflect DOT concerns about the accuracy of the diagrams provided by Northern Pass,” she wrote the NHSEC.

Quoting the meeting minutes, Saffo said, “Esterberg noted that these errors make Department personnel wonder about the accuracy of existing facilities and the right-of-way. Maintenance and Design Services personnel have been told to make NPT review a priority, but errors and inaccuracies are making the review take longer and diverting resources from personnel’s normal job responsibilities hinders highway maintenance and project development activities.”

She also asks the NHSEC to recall the construction panel to address the viability of the exception requests.

“[Northern Pass] cannot complain that deadlines are not being met when [it] continues to change the design of the project, adds exception requests and submits plans that have inaccuracies, necessitating DOT to now question ‘the accuracy of existing facilities and the right-of-way throughout the entire route,’” said Saffo.

In an objection to the GCC’s request to suspend NHSEC hearings, Northern Pass attorney Thomas Getz said the county commission’s pleading is without merit because it “continues to misapprehend the permitting role of the DOT in the SEC process” and the DOT process has been developed in a way that allows an applicant to refine its design over time and conform it to DOT’s specific requests.

But those changes are not sitting well with local towns.

On July 17 and July 31, respectively, the towns of Easton and Franconia wrote NHDOT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan, requesting she enact RSA 228:35, the statute on the reestablishment of highway boundaries.

On Monday, Bethlehem joined the two towns in petitioning Sheehan to enact the RSA to reestablish lost or uncertain ROWs along the North Country state roads that would be impacted. The line is proposed for burial under Routes 302 and 116 in Bethlehem and Routes 116 and 18 in Franconia and Easton.

In the Bethlehem letter, concerns were expressed that underground transmission line infrastructure could involve removing stone walls, trees, lawns, fences and gardens that private property owners believe are outside the ROW.

The ROWs aren’t clearly established and there are undetermined widths, Cheryl Jensen, chair of the Bethlehem Conservation Commission and the town’s liaison for Northern Pass matters, said to selectmen Monday.

“Property owners don’t understand the ramifications this could have on their properties,” she said.

In an Aug. 8 response to the town of Easton, Sheehan said the formal reestablishment of the ROW through RSA 228:35 is typically only considered when, after thorough investigation, the location of the ROW is not defined or there are questions about it.

NHDOT is currently requiring Northern Pass to complete a survey report that will document and define the types of ROW on the segments where the project would be within state roads, she said.

“The survey report must compile this information and be completed to the DOT’s satisfaction,” wrote Sheehan. “Northern Pass has not provided this information in a satisfactory format at this time.”


NHDOT's rejection of NPT's right-of-way survey (8/11/2017) is here. The DOT's overall page on Northern Pass, including NPT's 122 requests for exceptions to DOT's rules, is here.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

SEC Site Visit to Franconia: Disappointing (7/28/2017)

Franconia Site Visit: NHSEC Arrives Early, Disappoints Northern Pass Opponents

NHSEC Wraps Up Two Days Of North Country Site Visits Friday

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record 
July 29, 2017

Hoping to make a statement to the committee that will decide if Northern Pass will be approved, dozens of orange-clad opponents were disappointed Friday after members of the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee made their site visit more than an hour earlier than scheduled. (Photo by Robert Blechl)

FRANCONIA — Seeing it as an opportunity when they could almost be face to face, opponents of Northern Pass were hoping to make a statement to members of the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, which made a site visit Friday afternoon.

Instead, NHSEC members arrived more than an hour before their scheduled visit in Franconia and were gone after about 10 minutes, before virtually all of the several dozen opponents, wearing orange and some holding “No To Northern Pass” signs, arrived.

“We were going to be polite,” said Lisa Cutler, of Easton, who, with her husband, Ned, chair of the Easton selectboard, arrived a half hour before the estimated 2:15 p.m. visit by the NHSEC.

The committee is visiting portions along the Northern Pass route to study the impact the proposed transmission line would have.

As project opponents trickled into downtown, they were disappointed to learn of the early arrival. Some voiced suspicions it was a deliberate attempt by the NHSEC to avoid area residents turning out in Franconia, which has been a hotbed of Northern Pass opposition.

“To me, this is a public process and the public should see what they’re doing,” said Nancy Martland, of Sugar Hill.

The NHSEC should have visited to see not only what would physically be impacted by the project, but to see the people who would be impacted, said Kevin Johnson, owner of the Gale River Motel in Franconia.

“They avoided it by getting here an hour earlier,” he said. “It makes me question the objectivity of the committee and if they are interested in really weighing the pros and cons … People took time out of their day to come here.”

Two of them were Bob Sherburn and his daughter, Alyssa Sherburn, who run the Pinestead Farm Lodge, in Franconia, which has been in the family for generations.

“This is unfair,” said Bob Sherburn.

The Northern Pass line would run under Route 116, right in front of the main Pinestead farmhouse that regularly welcomes guests, said Alyssa Sherburn.

“This would really disrupt business,” he said.

Opponents favor burial, but many want a fully buried line, along Interstate 93, and not through downtown Franconia and Easton, where they say businesses would be hurt through two seasons of construction and ripped up roads, which they contend would also negatively impact residential properties.

The NHSEC is the entity that will decide whether or not to issue Northern Pass a certificate of site and facility, which is needed for the estimated $1.6 billion, 1,090-megawatt-capacity, 192-mile transmission line to advance. The NHSEC could make its decision later this year.

As proposed, the line would be all overhead except for 7 1/2 miles of underground line in Coos County and 52 miles underground from Bethlehem to Bridgewater.

Because they were on the road Friday, NHSEC administrator Pam Monroe and committee members were unavailable for comment and it was undetermined why the committee showed up more than an hour before their scheduled time in Franconia.
On Thursday, NHSEC members arrived in Coos County for site visits in upper Coos that included Pittsburg, where the line would cross the international border, and Clarksville.

On Friday, after visiting Stark and Weeks State Park in Lancaster, which would have views of overhead towers, they visited Bethlehem and Franconia, which, along with Easton and Sugar Hill, would have buried line along state highways.

According Kenneth Bowes, engineer for Eversource Energy, the parent company of Northern Pass, the traffic control at Routes 18 and 116, where the line would make a sharp right and cross under the Gale River, “is probably the more complicated of any of the locations along the route …”

At the moment, the big legal challenge that appears to be shaping up against Northern Pass in the North Country is the project’s use of local roads.

Last week, the Easton Board of Selectmen wrote Victoria Sheehan, commissioner of the N.H. Department of Transportation, to request that the NHDOT enforce N.H. RSA 228:25, the statute on the reestablishment of highway boundaries.

The RSA states whenever it is the opinion of the NHDOT commissioner that the boundary lines, limits, or locations of any highways become lost, uncertain, or doubtful, the commissioner can reestablish them the same as they were originally established.

“At issue here is a private project proposing to use public roads for a highly invasive project,” the Easton selectmen said to Sheehan. “Its size and length are unprecedented in New Hampshire and the majority of road abutters do not know what the road width is, and therefore are unable to defend their property rights, when they even know that there is an issue of unknown width.”

The Easton board members said many people assume that when the state took over the roads, it set a standard right-of-way width, but that is untrue.

“Abutters and travelers have a right to a clear determination of road widths, yet what is being proposed is a permit of a project which has not provided adequate proof of ROW widths,” wrote the selectmen. “Even with all the relevant information in hand, some roads on the proposed route were laid out without the width of the road being specified, so there is inescapable uncertainty about the road boundaries.”


See the companion piece to this post here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Route 116 (Franconia - Easton) Says NO to Northern Pass (7/28/2017)

Route 116 (Franconia - Easton) Says NO to Northern Pass

Site Evaluation Committee Site Visit, July 28, 2017

Read the companion piece to this post here.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Franconia area residents take local concerns about Northern Pass to Concord (July 20, 2017)

Franconia area residents take local concerns about Northern Pass to Concord

SEC Public Statement Hearing, Concord, July 20, 2017

Patricia Kellogg displays "New Hampshire's Heritage" at the
SEC Public Hearing in Concord, July 20, 2017

Along with over thirty other New Hampshire citizens and a delegation from the Pessamit Innu First Nation in Quebec, six Franconia area residents traveled to Concord on July 20 to voice their concerns about the proposed Northern Pass project to the Site Evaluation Committee, which is currently deciding whether or not to permit the 192-mile transmission line. This was the third hearing held in the last month for non-intervenors to state their views to the SEC.

Grouped into two parties, two dozen residents of Bethlehem, Franconia, Easton, and Plymouth who live along the proposed underground route were granted pro se intervenor status in 2016, and representatives of these two groups have been participating in the adjudicative process for the last 18 months. In the White Mountains area, the towns of Littleton, Bethlehem, Franconia, Sugar Hill, Easton, Plymouth, and Ashland have retained counsel to represent them as intervenors, with County Attorney Lara Saffo representing the Grafton County Commissioners.

SEC Chair Martin Honigberg noted that the July 20th session was the sixteenth public hearing that the SEC has held on this project and that the nearly 1900 written comments submitted to date and posted on the SEC’s website are running 12 to 1 against the project as proposed.

In the July 20th hearing, Franconia area speakers stressed heritage – both what we have inherited and what we must strive to pass on to future generations. As a third generation family owner of Polly’s Pancake Parlor, which opened in 1938, Katherine Aldrich Cote remarked that the Franconia area has been known as “a destination for tourists escaping the heat, noise, and traffic of cities since the late 1800’s.” She noted that Polly’s has kept meticulous attendance records and knows how past road construction and other events along Route 18/116 in Franconia, the proposed site of the construction project to install the Northern Pass cable, have negatively affected business. Over two-thirds of Polly’s guests travel that route to reach Sugar Hill. Project sponsors estimate a minimum of two construction years – April to November – to install the underground cable, which, Cote said, collides with the annual peak period of Polly’s visitors. In 2016, Polly’s served 71, 031 of its 93, 500 customers between April and October.

Cote presented the SEC with 75 letters voicing similar concerns about the impacts of underground construction on Franconia area businesses and implored the committee “to consider the negative long-term effects of this project on our small towns and businesses. Tourist will avoid the area, find other destinations to visit, and may not return for many years, if at all.”

Patricia Kellogg, Littleton, displayed a large photo entitled “New Hampshire’s Heritage.” It reproduces a well-known nineteenth century painting of Franconia Notch on which her husband, a licensed surveyor, has drawn in a simulation of Northern Pass’s towers and wires to underscore the point that tourists do not visit the Franconia area to experience major infrastructure projects. She also implored the SEC to preserve “the New Hampshire advantage,” our pristine scenic heritage, for future generations to enjoy.

Dorothy McPhaul, Sugar Hill, and Brenda Shannon Adam, Easton, coordinated their statements to contrast the proposed underground routes of Northern Pass and of a rival project in Vermont, the New England Clean Power Link, which is now fully permitted. McPhaul drove the 57-mile overland portion of the NECPL route from Benson to Ludlow, Vt. on July 10 and observed that the differences between it and Northern Pass’s underground plans are “stunning.” The Vermont project, sited on four-lane highways and back roads that two towns have approved, will bypass all municipal centers, allowing them to continue business as usual. “NECPL is done with intensive planning by experts who care about the people as well as the finished product,” McPhaul said. “Northern Pass is a jumbled up mess of partially thought out plans, partially conducted studies, outdated maps and data, a staff of puppets, a reliance on its attorneys and contacts to make exceptions, grant waivers, ignore deficiencies, fool the public, lie if need be, and with plans ‘made as you go’ without sufficient knowledge and research,” she charged.

Adam drove Northern Pass’s proposed 52-mile underground route from Bethlehem to Bridgewater on July 2, the day after flash flooding swept through Grafton County, wondering “if the narrow ancient corduroy roads would disintegrate and swallow me up in an underground river like the videos I watched of 25A in nearby Orford.” How will these fragile roads hold up, she asked the SEC, when Northern Pass increases the traffic by 120% with heavy construction vehicles? As a further insult, Adam remarked, “the route cuts through the heart of three significant economic centers - Franconia, North Woodstock, Plymouth.”

Susan Ford, Easton, reminded the SEC that small towns in the North Country’s mountainous terrain have a limited number of roads. Downtown Concord was recently torn up for two years during a construction project to enhance the business district, but Ford knew she could avoid Main Street construction by traveling on Storrs Street, State Street or Green Street, and she could walk on sidewalks to Main Street businesses. “There is only one almost parallel road to Rt. 116 in Franconia and that’s five miles away. We can’t go around the block – there are no blocks,” Ford said. As a former Representative, Ford also reminded the SEC that the New Hampshire Legislature has reconfigured the siting process to include a “public interest” standard. The public interest is best served, Ford concluded, by moving the Northern Pass project to I-93.

The protracted length of the project and the intense opposition it has generated since 2010 were underscored by Melissa Elander, also of Easton. She presented the SEC with six cartons holding 20,000 petitions – “20, 000 voices” - opposing the project, 5,000 of which are directly addressed to the SEC and urge burial on I-93.

You may still sign the petition to the SEC; go to the website and search for “Northern Pass.” The SEC also continues to accept written public comments, which should be addressed and emailed to Pamela G. Monroe, SEC Administrator at Franconia area business owners who wish to add their letters to the existing group of 75 may send them to Please address these letters to the SEC and they will be forwarded as part of the business group.

Peter Martin rolls in boxes of petitions, signed by 20,000 opponents,
that the Martins and Melissa Elander have collected since 2010.

Susan Schibanoff

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Routes 3, 18, and 112 Damaged by Flash Flooding, July 1, 2017

(For photos of Easton's Route 116, click here.)

Severe Thunderstorm Warning, July 1, 2017

The following photos of Routes 3 (Thornton), 18 (Sugar Hill), and 112 (Woodstock) were taken on July 3-4, 2017

Rte. 3

Rte. 3

Rte. 112

Rte. 112

Rte. 112

Rte. 18

Easton's Route 116 Damaged by Flash Flooding, July 1, 2017

(For photos of Routes 3, 18, and 112, click here)

NH DOT Commissioner Sheehan Tours Storm-Damaged 

Rte. 116, Easton

(Posted on NH DOT's Facebook page, July 4, 2017.)

The following photos were taken in various locations on Rte. 116 
in Easton, July 1-5, 2017

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Northern Pass would have a catastrophic effect on North Country businesses​

Littleton Courier
June 7, 2017

Northern Pass would have a catastrophic effect on North Country businesses

To the Editor: 

I hear comments from people that their credibility was challenged at hearings with Northern Pass. I therefore want to outline my background and thoughts about the impact of Northern Pass underground construction. I am an engineering graduate from MIT and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. After some years spent at a small CPA firm in Portland, Maine, I became a partner in a national accounting firm working in both Providence, RI and Jacksonville, Fla. Upon retirement, I became a real estate investor. 

During my career, I worked with companies both large and small such as Central Maine Power Company, Winn Dixie Stores and Hanford Bros. and banks of all sizes. I also worked with many businesses that had few employees and sole proprietorships, acting as a consultant to those businesses on issues other than financial statements and income taxes. For example, a client might consider a new location and we would discuss the merits and impact of such a step. My function was always to help a business, no matter how small, to survive.

The impact of Northern Pass, where they will take two years from April through November to lay an electric transmission line underground, will be a catastrophe for North Country businesses. Travel will be restricted to one lane in several locations simultaneously on our country roads. Noise, dust, inconvenience and the unsightliness of it all will have only the most loyal and dedicated patrons taking their business elsewhere and oftentimes, as will be the case for tourists, for good. A rural economy, especially one highly dependent on tourism dollars, cannot easily survive this kind of disruption. There just is never an opportunity to make up those lost dollars given that the project is not designed for the purpose of ultimately bringing more customers to the area. Decreased revenue means decreased value in a business affecting resale. The financial consequence of two years loss of income leads to spending retirement savings, already in short supply where it exists at all. 

Yours truly and good luck, 

Bill Adam 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Granite State Power Link Makes Pitch To Littleton

Granite State Power Link Makes Pitch To Littleton

No Voiced Concerns Monday

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record

LITTLETON — Representatives of Granite State Power Link, the 1,200-megawatt capacity transmission line proposed by National Grid to import Canadian hydro and wind power through the Northeast Kingdom into New Hampshire, made their pitch to Littleton Monday.

“Local outreach is essential for what we do with our projects,” GSPL project director Joe Rossignoli said during the regularly scheduled selectmen’s meeting.”We take the local relationship very seriously.”

The first of GSPL’s two segments is a new high-voltage direct current overhead line that would run parallel to an existing HVDC transmission line in an expanded right-of-way from the international border at Norton, Vt., through the NEK to Littleton and then to a converter station on National Grid-owned property in Monroe.

“The compelling argument is it makes use of existing transmission rights-of-way and that drives down development costs and minimizes visual and environmental impacts,” Rossignoli said of the project.

The presentation drew no voiced concerns in Littleton and one expression of support by Selectman Milton Bratz.

Referring to Northern Pass, Bratz said, “Five years ago, we took a stand against another project because of cut trees and large towers. I think this addresses the issues we have back then.”

Bratz said if his two former select board colleagues were still on the board, they would likely agree.

The GSPL differs in several respects from the proposed 1,090-megawatt, $1.6 billion Northern Pass proposal, unpopular with many in the North Country.

In addition to GSPL’s $1 billion development cost being funded by the applicant (National Grid) and its investor (Citizens Energy, of Massachusetts) and not ratepayers, the GSPL would have more capacity, would cost more than a third less, and would be almost adjacent to or within existing transmission corridors, with new towers no taller and others smaller than the ones already there.

Although Northern Pass representatives said they do not view the GSPL as a competitor, both projects are bidding for the same Massachusetts clean energy request for proposal and there can only be one winner.

Because the GSPL will have little to no visual impact and the permitting process is expected to be a smooth one, Rossignoli said he is confident of the GSPL’s chances for the Massachusetts RFP. Bids are due by July.

“Last summer we started thinking of ways to get clean energy from Quebec,” he said, adding that some fossil fuel plants in New England are closing and replacement power is needed.

The company estimates the existing right-of-way would be expanded 150 feet through segments of the Northeast Kingdom and over the Connecticut River into N.H.

In the North Country, 4.6 miles of new line would pass through Littleton and 1.2 through Monroe. Four miles in Littleton and Monroe would use an expanded right-of-way for a new DC line.

In all, five miles of line would be in Monroe, eight-tenths of a mile in Lyman, 7.4 miles in Bath, and 8.7 in Haverhill.

Only voluntary land acquisition with private landowners will be needed and eminent domain will not be used, said Rossignoli.

There will be little to no view shed impact for 106 of the 112 miles in N.H, he said.

The second GSPL segment involves upgrading approximately 107 miles of existing National Grid-owned overhead lines from Monroe to southern New Hampshire to accommodate the additional power flows from the new HVDC line.​

Monday, March 27, 2017

New Hampshire State Probe into Northern Pass Deepens

Amid Conflicting Statements, State Probes Deeper Into Northern Pass

Robert Blechl
Caledonian Record
March 27, 2017

Amid conflicting statements about federal approvals and studies questioning the need for big New England energy projects, the state’s counsel for the public is now asking the burning question – who will pay for Northern Pass?

March has been a rocky road for Eversource Energy, parent company of Northern Pass, after its partner, Hydro-Quebec, confirmed it will no longer pay for the estimated $1.6 billion development of the line in the U.S.

That reimbursement to Eversource by HQ is in a Transmission Service Agreement approved in late 2010 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and renewed in 2014, with an expiration of February 2017 or another date the partners agree to in writing.

After HQ’s announcement, Eversource spokesman Martin Murray said the TSA remains “in full force.”

Since then, however, FERC spokesman Craig Cano has confirmed to The Caledonian-Record that HQ and Eversource will need a new approval if the financial arrangement has changed, as HQ said it has.

“If the partners develop a different cost recovery mechanism, then they would need to come back to FERC,” said Cano.

Who Pays?

On March 20, Peter Roth, counsel for the public with the office of the N.H. Attorney General, wrote Eversource attorney Marvin Bellis about who specifically will now pay for the Northern Pass line.

“I am concerned that the means for payment and assurance of profitability sought by HQ may have effects on the quantification of the benefits of the project to the people of New Hampshire,” said Roth.

Roth noted a contradiction from Eversource stating that HQ “will not pay to bury the line.” On the same day, however, HQ issued a press release stating it “will not pay for the line in the U.S.”

As proposed, the 192-mile line would see 7 miles buried in Coos County and 52 miles in Grafton County, with the rest overhead.

HQ’s statement about not paying for the line in the U.S. comes after conservation groups in Canada and Quebec’s environmental review board criticized HQ for not burying the line through the Hereford Community Forest near the U.S. border but paying to bury segments of the line in the U.S.

Roth seeks clarification on statements made by Eversource that he said contradict statements by HQ.

He is also asking Eversource to “please explain how HQ will recover the costs of transmission service for use of the project if HQ and [Eversource] are not successful in the Massachusetts RFP” and if the applicants have any responsibility to pay development costs if the project ever comes to fruition.

Roth, too, is asking Eversource to confirm that the TSA filed in 2010 is indeed “the governing agreement between [Eversource] and HQ for paying associated costs with the project and that neither [Eversource] nor HQ are seeking to renegotiate the TSA.”

Energy Studies

Both ISO-New England and the University of N.H. have issued reports that appear to contradict Eversource’s argument for the need of a large energy projects like Northern Pass.

According to the ISO-NE report in May 2015, “The EE [energy efficiency] forecast shows that the energy savings resulting from state-sponsored EE programs can be expected to cause electric energy usage to remain flat in New England as a whole, with energy use in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, declining by 2024 to levels below those that had been expected in the 2014 EE forecast. The EE forecast also projects that the EE savings will slow the growth in peak demand across the region.”

On March 7, UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy issued a report stating, “New England does not need to increase energy use to continue to grow its economy. From 2005 to 2015, real state GDP in New England grew by 9.7 percent while energy use fell by 9.6 percent. Over the same time period real GDP for the entire U.S. grew by 15.2 percent, while energy use fell by 3.4 percent.”

The Carsey report states that during the current period of rapid transformation in energy markets there is significant stranded cost risk to electricity ratepayers for large infrastructure investments with uncertain return on investment.

The report concludes, “New England has adapted to higher electricity prices via improvements in energy efficiency and a transition to a less energy-intensive economy. The energy intensity of the New England economy is much lower than the national average.”

Murray said Massachusetts has a law specifically requiring its electric utilities to enter into contracts to purchase a large amount of hydro electric energy and off-shore wind energy and Northern Pass will respond to the Massachusetts RFP.

Referring to the ISO study, he said the success of the EE does not solve the supply-reliability-price challenge of replacing retiring base-load power plants that help meet demand today.​

Friday, March 10, 2017

Northern Pass - Dead or Alive?

Northern Pass: Hydro-Quebec Now Unwilling To Pay For Line In U.S.

HQ Says Relationship With NP Still Strong, Others Say Project As Proposed Likely Dead

Robert Blechl

March 10, 2017
Caledonian Record

After reports in the Quebec press Wednesday about Hydro-Quebec abandoning Northern Pass, the Canadian company responded Thursday to say it has no intention of pulling out of its relationship with Eversource Energy, its American partner.

One thing that has changed, however, and significantly, is that HQ is no longer willing to pay for the NP line in the United States and wants Massachusetts rate payers to pick up the tab.

That announcement, confirmed by Hydro-Quebec, is a break from the 2011 Transmission Service Agreement between HQ and NP parent company, Eversource Energy, that states HQ would reimburse Eversource for all development costs of the now-estimated $1.6 billion NP transmission line.

That change, in short, means HQ is unwilling to assume all the risk of the project and it now calls into question if it makes economic sense for either partner to proceed with the project as it’s currently proposed.

“Facts on the ground have changed,” said Bob Baker member of the North Country-based Responsible Energy Action LLC, a citizens’ education, advocacy and action group focused on N.H. energy policy.

“The transmission line now costs at least half a billion more than originally planned,” he said. “The capacity of the line has been reduced by 20 percent. The wholesale market price of electricity in New England is lower than its been in 13 years. So the original deal no longer makes sense. It is dead. If there is a new deal, it is slowly being revealed by reading between the inconsistent lines published by HQ and Eversource on their respective sides of the border. HQ is no longer willing to take on the risk of loss.”

HQ’s announcement came after a Wednesday story in Le Journal de Quebec stating HQ would be paying for the line in the U.S.

In a press release Thursday, HQ said “it has no intention to abandon the project” and “wishes to reiterate the position we shared with numerous Quebec media on Wednesday: Hydro-Quebec will not pay for the line in the U.S. [and] Hydro-Quebec will make sure this project is profitable for Quebecers.”

HQ said it now intends to submit the project to the request for proposals that Massachusetts will soon be issuing.

It is unclear, however, if HQ and Eversource N.H. have a renewed Transmission Service Agreement filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In December 2013, Eversource requested an amendment to its 2011 TSA with HQ, noting delays in the project and stating, “The parties have agreed to replace the term ‘third anniversary’ with the term ‘approval deadline,’ which is defined to mean Feb. 14, 2017, or such other date to which the parties shall mutually agree in writing.”

Spokespersons at FERC said that to date there is no signed and renewed TSA between Eversource and HQ on file.

On Thursday, Eversource spokespersons Martin Murray and Kaitlyn Woods declined to say if Eversource has a renewed TSA with HQ, what the terms of it are, and if it plans to present it to investors to assure them HQ will remain committed and Northern Pass as proposed is moving forward.

Baker said just like the first TSA amendment proposed in December 2013, the parties would want to file it 60 days beforehand to get a FERC approval by February. That hasn’t happened.

In the 2011 TSA, Eversource didn’t take any real risk and the risk was mostly on HQ, said Baker.

“This is how it’s changed,” he said. “HQ now says we will only build NP if the rate payers in New England, and especially in Massachusetts, pay for the transmission line through a long-term contract where they agree to a high rate … They are not going to do the project unless they are guaranteed a payback … They don’t see the profit under the original model.”