Friday, October 13, 2017

AMC's Objection to WMNF's Draft ROD (Oct. 13, 2017)

Appalachian Mountain Club's Objection to the WMNF's 
"Draft Record of Decision" on Northern Pass

(Read SPNHF's objection here.)

(Read CLF's objection here.)

Mary Beth Borst, Reviewing Officer
USDA Forest Service, Eastern Region
626 East Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 700
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 944-3963 (FAX)

October 13, 2017

RE: Objections of the Appalachian Mountain Club to the ‘Draft Record of Decision - Final Northern Pass Transmission Line Project Environmental Impact Statement, White Mountain National Forest, Grafton County, New Hampshire’

Dear Ms. Borst:

Thank you for this opportunity to provide our objections to the draft Record of Decision, Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Northern Pass Transmission project in the White Mountain National Forest, NH. Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is the nation’s oldest conservation and recreation organization, with more than 100,000 members, supporters, and advocates. Our mission is to promote the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The AMC is an intervener in the above‐referenced docket, and its standing in this case was described in our motion to intervene of Dec. 15, 2010, and our April 4th, 2016 comments on the US Department of Energy Draft EIS and Supplement (DEIS), which included objections based on timely and specific written comments regarding the proposed project. AMC raises the following objections to the draft White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) EIS Record of Decision (draft ROD) without prejudice to any and all legal rights AMC may have, which are hereby expressly reserved.

On April 4th 2016 AMC provided extensive comments on the DEIS and Supplement, and we are disappointed to note that so little of what we suggested for improvement has been adopted in either the US DOE FEIS or the draft ROD. Given the detail we previously provided about our concerns, we will not repeat all of our argument here, but instead will highlight those areas where we believe the draft ROD remains sorely lacking despite our previous comments and recommendations, and based on new information arising after the designated comment opportunities.

Sections in the WMNF draft ROD relevant to AMC’s comments on the DEIS and FEIS

Section 1.3 Purpose and Need

The “Purpose and Need” defined by the DOE and adopted by Supervisor Wagner is unduly narrow, and precludes full consideration of the “public interest” which should be at the heart of the WMNF analysis. As AMC noted in its DEIS and FEIS comments: “The purpose of, and need for, the DOE’s action is to determine whether or not to grant the requested Presidential permit for the Project at the international border crossing proposed in the amended Presidential permit application (Northern Pass 2015).”

The statement of the agency’s underlying “purpose and need” in an EIS is critical to identifying the range of reasonable alternatives. Obviously, if the “purpose and need” is defined too broadly, the number of alternatives requiring analysis would be virtually limitless. Conversely, it is inappropriate to define “purpose and need” so narrowly that only a single alternative with variants could be identified for realistic and fair analysis (as is the case in this Application). As recognized in DOE’s Recommendations for the Preparation of Environmental Assessments and Environmental Impact Statements, (Second Ed., Dec. 2004 at page 5), “The proposed action is generally only one means of meeting the agency’s underlying purpose and need for action.”

The FEIS, as in the DEIS, incorrectly applies a narrow interpretation based on 10 CFR part 250. A purpose and need statement cannot lawfully be premised on the narrow objective of determining whether or not to grant a permit for a particular proposal. Indeed, as written, DOE’s purpose and need statement allows for just one alternative to the approval of the Applicant’s proposal: denial of the project as proposed.

Section 1.4.2 Decision Rationale

The Forest Supervisor’s rationale includes “the benefit from the engagement and valuable input from participating state and federal agencies, particularly, the EPA – Region 1, the USACE – New England District, and the NHOEP, who participated as cooperating agencies.” Ironically, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-Region 1 (EPA), in a letter dated September 26, 2017 to the USACE-New England District (attached as Appendix 1), reiterates its position that a hybrid Alternative 7, which includes the burial of an additional 40 miles to protect wetlands, needs further analysis. This alternative would also eliminate above ground transmission line segment impacts to the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF).

The Forest Supervisor’s rationale is premature considering this filing by the very agency he cites as crucial to the EIS process. The Forest Supervisor’s rationale also includes: “In addition, the alternatives utilizing I-93 are not consistent with my understanding of NHDOT policies. The 2010 NHDOT Utility Accommodations Manual stipulates that “Longitudinal installations [utility lines] are not permitted within the LAROW [Limited Access ROW, i.e., I-93]” unless the Applicant is capable of demonstrating that “an extreme hardship” would be imposed on the Applicant, and that “alternate locations are not available.” Because the Applicant has proposed the Project configuration as detailed in Alternative 7, which proposes the transmission line to be buried along NH Routes 112 and 116, the Applicant could not demonstrate that “alternate locations are not available,” and/or that “an extreme hardship” would be imposed.” But in contradiction to the Supervisor’s stated rationale, Northern Pass (the Applicant), in its Application before the NH Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), and as reviewed in the US DOE DEIS and FEIS, bases its Preferred Alternative on the assumption that the Project would indeed for the most part be buried under NH Routes 112 and 116, not beside the roadway1 , and therefore would have only short term impacts2 .

The DEIS and FEIS appear to be based on the premise that the 60 miles of buried transmission line is practical and can be buried under the road pavement, as the Applicant originally proposed, but has since backed away from. During the NH Site Evaluation Committee adjudicatory hearing session on September 14th, 2017, the Grafton County Commissioners put into the record that the NH Department of Transportation (DOT) policy in fact prohibits burial under the pavement. Rather, burial needs to occur in the adjacent ROW. As a result, the Applicant is now trying to engineer a project that will actually fit into the NH DOT ROW outside of the roadway, and to receive permission from DOT for such construction. But the incomplete and in many instances erroneous information provided by the Applicant thus far has delayed any true understanding of what burial in the ROW would actually involve, including on what side of the road, and what resources would be impacted. Yet the DEIS, FEIS, and draft ROD all assume the proposed burial route is practical based on burial under the roadway, and based on that premise determine that the impacts would be short term. But that premise is no longer valid.

Clearly the FEIS and draft ROD are premature. It is also ironic that the Applicant made a strong case, which the DEIS, FEIS, and draft ROD adopt, that burial under I-93 through Franconia Notch and south to the target Massachusetts power market would not be permissible due to the ‘2010 NHDOT Utility Accommodations Manual’ preventing under-pavement burial. Yet the Applicant has proposed burial under the pavement of state roads, and this was assumed practical in the DEIS, FEIS and draft ROD, but has now been recently denied by the NH DOT as explained above.

Finally, we will note that the idea of burying the line under the Franconia Notch bikeway as an alternative to burial under I-93 itself was never analyzed as an option for addressing the constraints in Franconia Notch State Park.

[ 1 The FEIS at page 2-44 assumes the burial will primarily be under the roadway , i.e. “Short-term disturbance for the trench and construction activities is assumed to be 10 feet (3 m) wide, with the majority of disturbance limited to the road surface (approximately 30 feet [9 m] wide) and adjacent, previously disturbed areas.” NH DOT has determined that burial under the roadway is contrary to their policy and burial would need to take place outside of the road surface. 2 The FEIS at page 2-44 assumes the burial will primarily be under the roadway , i.e. “Short-term disturbance for the trench and construction activities is assumed to be 10 feet (3 m) wide, with the majority of disturbance limited to the road surface (approximately 30 feet [9 m] wide) and adjacent, previously disturbed areas.”] Public Interest Determination

The Forest Supervisor states, “In contemplating authorization of the Project, I have considered whether the Project is in the public interest. In addition to the Decision Rationale detailed herein, I believe that the Project will benefit the public by providing a low-carbon, cost-effective, and diversified source of electricity for the people of New Hampshire and New England.” However, it has been raised but not thoroughly vetted or verified in either the FEIS or draft ROD, that moving Hydro-Quebec power into the New England market to capture higher prices resulting from the MA Clean Energy 83D Request for Proposal (should Northern Pass win that bid), would actually just be diverting that same power from its current use in New York and Ontario. If that is the case, the question arises as to what would replace the Hydro-Quebec power in New York and Ontario. A recent report states that if the replacement power in those markets is in part or in whole natural gas, then reducing GHG emissions in the New England market at the expense of neighboring states and provinces would result in no to minimal overall GHG benefit3 . The Forest Supervisor did not analyze that possibility, and likely lacks the expertise to make that judgment.

The Forest Supervisor states “Consistent with manual guidance for SUPs, I have considered whether this project could be reasonably accommodated on non-NFS lands.” He concludes no. Yet there are 46 proposals in the MA Clean Energy 83D Request for Proposal (MA Clean Energy RFP), 44 competing with Northern Pass, and many on non-federal lands. In fact, the DEIS and FEIS determine that the existing HVDC line in NH is not a feasible alternative and therefore it was not studied further. But in July 2017, GridAmerica Holdings, a subsidiary of National Grid and the owner of that transmission line, has since developed and submitted a bid into the MA Clean Energy RFP that uses that existing HVDC corridor in NH by upgrading the existing lines to carry the same amount of power as Northern Pass 4 .

In addition, the issue of energy diversity cited by the Supervisor lacks sufficient analysis. As AMC points out in its DEIS comments of April 2016: “The rationale given for this proposed project is in part to promote electricity diversity due to the rapid transition to dependence on natural gas power generation. Hydro-Quebec currently has an export capacity into New England of approximately 2,275 MW and the DEIS projects that this project would increase it by another 31+% . Should the Northern Pass (1,090 MW), the New England Clean Power Link (1,000 MW), and Vermont Green Power Line (400 MW) transmission projects all come to fruition, this would increase the region’s dependency on Hydro-Quebec to over 4,760 MW of capacity. This excludes additional imports from other Canadian provinces. New England-ISO currently has ca. 31,000 MW of capacity, therefore if Hydro-Quebec were to backfill for generation being retired, it has the potential to become a dominant source of the New England-ISO generation capacity. In 2015 Canadian hydropower was approximately 13% of the region’s net electric energy load, and the DEIS estimates that Northern Pass would increase this by 31%. Based on the New England-ISO consumption of 126,874 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2015 and an 80% capacity-use factor for all proposed Hydro-Quebec transmission lines, Hydro-Quebec could approach one quarter of the region’s power generation consumed (GWh). The DEIS at Section 2.5.2 suggests ca. 20%, but that calculation needs to be updated as it appears to not include additional Hydro-  [3 4]

Quebec generation separately bid into the CT/MA/RI RFP (Vermont Green Power Link), or recently permitted transmission (e.g. NECPL) designed to host Hydro-Quebec generation. And this excludes other Hydro-Quebec exports to the US from its subsidiaries in New Brunswick and Newfoundland/Labrador. In summary a continued transition to Hydro-Quebec generation will shift today’s dependency on natural gas towards a dependency on Hydro-Quebec, a shifting of the electrical diversity problem but not necessarily the solving of it (emphasis added). It would put the region’s grid and markets at risk with this increased reliance on power from a sole source provider, a dependency on a few multi-thousand mile long transmission lines which have historically suffered major disruptions about every decade, and the likelihood that if an energy shortage occurred, Quebec’s internal power needs would trump those of New England given that Hydro-Quebec is owned by the Province of Quebec. And like California hydropower this past drought year, future Canadian hydro power generation during the tenure of the Northern Pass project could become less certain due to climatic changes in temperature and precipitation.”

In summary Supervisor Wagner takes at face value the assertions about regional energy needs and diversity concerns that are contradicted by both information placed in the record but not considered by DOE, and new information. That energy policy is not a matter in which Supervisor Wagner has expertise only underscores that his reliance on these issues for his draft ROD decision is flawed.


Susan Arnold
Vice President for Conservation
Appalachian Mountain Club

Cc: Stacy Lemieux, Project Leader WMNF
 Clare R. Mendelsohn, Forest Supervisor WMNF