Friday, January 22, 2016

Northern Pass Avoids Profit Questions


Whitefield: Northern Pass Avoids Profit Questions During Second SEC Hearing

Motions To Intervene Must Be Filed By Feb. 5

PHOTO BY ROBERT BLECHLNorthern Pass opponents Chelsea Petereit, left, and Mark McColluck, of North Stratford, wearing the opposition orange, applaud testimony calling on the state and company to bury the entire line.
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Northern Pass opponents Chelsea Petereit, left, and Mark McColluck, of North Stratford, wearing the opposition orange, applaud testimony calling on the state and company to bury the entire line.
PHOTO BY ROBERT BLECHLWhitefield musician Katie Rose performs her new anti-Northern Pass song, “Powers That Be,” during the NH SEC public hearing on Northern Pass Wednesday.
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Whitefield musician Katie Rose performs her new anti-Northern Pass song, “Powers That Be,” during the NH SEC public hearing on Northern Pass Wednesday.
By Robert Blechl,
Staff Writer
Caledonian Record
WHITEFIELD -- While Eversource executives continue to tell their shareholders a consensus is building around Northern Pass, a different story is playing out in the North Country, where opposition, after five years, remains just as fierce.

That opposition, turning out Wednesday for a N.H. Site Evaluation Committee information session at the Mountain View Grand, is pushing Eversource to state how much profit the company stands to gain through the transmission line they say would be subsidized through negative impacts to property values and the region's tourist industry.

Talk of profit is one thing Eversource, partner with Hydro-Quebec and parent company of Northern Pass, has shied away from, and Wednesday was no exception.

During a question-and-answer session, Eversource NH President Bill Quinlan said, "It's technically possible to bury the entire line," a statement that drew robust applause from opponents of overhead lines and towers.

But full burial would add about a billion dollars to the currently estimated $1.6 billion project and make it "uneconomical," he said.

"We, along with our partners, are not willing to go forward with a project that costs a billion more," he said.

Quinlan did not give a profit threshold below which Eversource will not go and declined to say if Hydro-Quebec will pay all or or most of the development costs in N.H. and how much the two companies would make in profit and revenue.

Documents and calculations, however, show billions of dollars to be made by both and also show that Hydro-Quebec would pay all development costs and expenses for Eversource, resulting in a $100 million first-year profit return for Eversource and at least a $2 billion return on equity, or guaranteed Eversource profit, during the 40-year term of the line.

According to a February 2011 order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission accepting the Transmission Service Agreement between both entities, Hydro-Quebec "will be responsible for providing approximately [$1.6 billion] in initial construction costs and return on such costs, necessary additional capital expenditures and return, and other expenses associated with the line over the 40-year operating term of the TSA."

Based on August 2015 megawatt hour prices, Hydro-Quebec stands to make at least $600 million a year, or $24 billion during the 40-year term of the line, according to calculations by Responsible Energy Action LLC.

"Northern Pass' single largest expense is Eversource's profit," Dalton resident and REAL member Jim Dannis said Thursday. "When Mr. Quinlan says it's unaffordable to bury the lines, you have to wonder why he won't cut his profit by just a bit to do what's right for New Hampshire. When it comes to the economics of the project, it's a black box. Eversource says its uneconomical, but won't tell you why."

In the FERC order, Northern Pass is called a "cost-based transmission project where the risk of the project has been shifted to [Hydro-Quebec], the customer, as opposed to a merchant transmission project where the transmission developer [Eversource] assumes the risk."

As structured, the TSA "ensures that the cost of the NPT line will be fully recovered by Northern Pass from [Hydro-Quebec] over the term of the TSA."
Since the project went public more than five years ago, Hydro-Quebec has refused to comment on concerns by New Hampshire residents and has not said why full burial is not an option.

In New Hampshire, SEC, a statewide planning board for energy projects, is the agency that would grant the required certificate of site and facility for the line that is designed to import hydro-power from Quebec to the market in southern New England.

If approved, the 1,090-megawatt 192-mile line with steel towers at least 85 feet high would stretch from Pittsburg to Deerfield.

To date, a total of 60 miles would be buried, including about 8 miles of line in Clarksville and Stewartstown and 52 miles in and around the White Mountain National Forest from Bethlehem to Bridgewater.

Through its Forward NH plan, announced in August and including a $200 million economic development fund, lower energy costs and other benefits, Quinlan said Northern Pass would equate to $3.8 billion in economic benefits to the state.

When asked what the $80 million in projected cost savings means for N.H. ratepayers, Quinlan said roughly $5 on a monthly $100 utility bill.

Referring to the company's stated economic benefits, Colles Stowell, who owns property in Lancaster, struck a chord in the room when he said, "Take your $4 billion Forward NH plan and bury the line and the opposition will disappear."

Few Supporters

More than 200 residents turned out for Wednesday's session, most in opposition.
Drawing applause during the comment period was Sugar Hill resident Nancy Martland, who said, "I am here tonight to stand with my friends and neighbors of Coos, to look the Northern Pass developers in the eye and tell you that if it is right to bury your power transmission line through Sugar Hill, it is right to bury it through the equally precious and valuable towns of Coos County. And it is not right to divide us into the saved and the damned, the burial towns and the tower towns."
Martland said Eversource looks at North Country communities as dots to be connected on a map and called the project "a lucrative business deal hatched in corner offices in Hartford and Montreal."

"We know our own worth even if you do not," she said. "You cannot bully us, you cannot buy us, you cannot trick us, you cannot wear us down, you cannot make us go away until you do the right thing and bury every mile of cable through our beloved state of New Hampshire ... Go underground or go home."

Northumberland resident Joseph Keenan, who moved to northern New Hampshire because of its beauty, said, "No other issue in 20 years has brought together the political spectrum like this has."

Keenan said he has had his property reappraised twice in recent years and both times described negative impacts to his property from Northern Pass.

Wednesday's session included state Reps. Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster, Brad Bailey, R-Monroe, and Sue Ford, D-Easton, and state Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton.

Citing impacts to property values and tourism, Bailey, said, "The vast majority of my constituents won't be happy until you bury the entire line."

Rideout, too, said his constituents are concerned and don't feel like Northern Pass has listened to them.

"If you don't look at burying this, the project will drag on," he said.

Several spoke in support of the project, including a representative from the International Brotherhood of Industrial Workers, who would help erect the towers; Stewartstown resident Landon Placey, who in 2011 sold 60 acres to Northern Pass for $675,000; Lancaster businessman Allen Bouthillier, owner of AB Excavating in Lancaster, whose company he said would benefit; and Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, who said future development in Coos County depends on cheaper electricity.

Woodburn said Northern Pass' latest proposal still falls short, an imbalance remains and more needs to be done to define benefits to the North Country.

A balance could be struck with additional burial, more money to the region for mitigation or a combination of both, said Woodburn.

An SEC public information session is being held in each of the five counties the line would pass through. Thursday's session in Lincoln was the last of the latest round, with more public hearings to follow.

Communities and individuals wanting to be interveners have until Feb. 5 to file for intervener status with the SEC.

The state agencies that also need to make decisions on permits, such as the N.H. Department of Environmental Services and Department of Transportation, are expected to render their final decisions by Aug. 15.

SEC is expected to render its decision by Dec. 19.
More information about the SEC process can be found at