Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hydro-Québec can afford to bury Northern Pass - editorial

  "We cannot afford to see a state entity act as the stooge of a foreign company’s record profits."

Coos County Democrat and Littleton Courier editorial (October 28, 2015)

Hydro-Québec can afford to bury Northern Pass

Éric Martel, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Hydro-Québec, must really enjoy life. While planning to build and pay for Northern Pass, the nearly 200 miles of power lines through New Hampshire, Martel’s company has posted hefty profits. On the Hydro-Québec website, Martel rightfully referred to 2014 as "a remarkable year." Certainly, a $3.4 billion profit and $2.5 billion dividend to shareholders qualifies as remarkable.

Good news keeps getting better for Hydro-Québec, which is owned by the province’s government. For 2015, the company’s financials remain stellar. Profit for the first six months of this year exceeded $2 billion. Congratulations to Hydro-Québec for following up a remarkable year with an absolutely amazing six months. Counting the first half of this year, Hydro-Québec’s profits since the start of 2011, shortly after Northern Pass was originally proposed, were just under $12 billion, or about $7,250,000 each day. Even after converting the company’s figures to American dollars, the profit remains rather large.

With all the dollars flying around, why is Hydro-Québec hesitant to use some of those record profits over the next four years, the anticipated timeframe to build Northern Pass, to pay for complete burial of the transmission line?

Northern Pass, a partnership between Hydro-Québec and New England power supplier Eversource, recently filed an application with the state’s Site Evaluation Committee. A decision on the controversial proposal will take about a year. Northern Pass seems to have new momentum after agreeing in August to bury 52 more miles of line. A step in the right direction, for sure, but the total proposed amount of buried lines is less than one-third of the project’s length.

Beyond the $1.6 billion Northern Pass anticipates to spend on the proposed route, with 60 miles of underground lines, the cost to fully bury the project would likely be less than one year of Hydro-Québec’s profit. Trees and views in Coös County, where most of the transmission towers would be visible, matter as much as land around the White Mountains, the area benefiting from the August decision to bury more lines.

Dedicated residents have testified about how the tall towers of Northern Pass would diminish the joy our land provides. Hopefully Mr. Martel and Northern Pass can forgive the people of the North Country who believe our forests are more remarkable than a foreign monopoly’s balance sheet. Beloved scenery and the wonders of nature - not a Canadian company’s quest for more profit - make life grand in New Hampshire.

If Hydro-Québec wants to add to its financial success by sending energy down the Northern Pass route, the company needs to pay for total line burial. That might complicate construction and push the start time for the project back. So be it. New Hampshire is worth the wait.

Regardless of how beneficial nearly 1,100 megawatts of power would be for the regional electric grid, the business partners in two countries who proposed Northern Pass need to answer a question. Why won’t Hydro-Québec divert some of its mighty profits to bury the entire project?

Even the angriest critic of Northern Pass must admit that the project’s leaders have respectfully heard many people express their doubts about the power line. Perhaps the Site Evaluation Committee will hear us even better. They need to. They must. We cannot afford to see a state entity act as the stooge of a foreign company’s record profits.