Friday, January 8, 2016

Transmission Line Burial Bill Rises from Dead


Transmission Line Burial Bill Rises From Dead

By Robert Blechl, Staff Writer
Caledonian Record

A bill tabled last year that seeks to designate energy infrastructure corridors in the state for burial of transmission lines like Northern Pass came back from the dead this week after being resurrected by the N.H. House of Representatives.

Voting against tabling it for another legislative session on Wednesday were 241 state representatives, including nearly all state representatives in the North Country.

House Bill 626, whose North Country sponsors include state Rep. Sue Ford, D-Easton, and state Rep. Rebecca Brown, D-Sugar Hill, and state Sen. Forrester, R-Meredith, would create underground utility corridors along state-owned roads and highways.

 The text of the bill reads that as the state's businesses become more dependent on lower-cost energy to remain competitive and as its citizens seek more affordable and cleaner sources of power and become more aware of the value of the state's natural landscapes, "it has become increasingly difficult to site and develop large-scale above-ground energy transmission lines ... without unacceptably high development costs and regulatory delays, unacceptable negative impacts on the state's most valuable natural landscapes, and the potential for unacceptable adverse impacts on adjoining private property values."

The Legislature therefore "finds that it would be in the public interest for the state to designate certain 'energy infrastructure corridors' along, within, and under major state-owned or state-controlled transportation routes, for the underground collocation of major energy transmission lines necessary to support balanced economic growth, reduce or mitigate high energy prices, and contribute to a cleaner environment, while providing the state with market-based revenue from private energy transmission companies in return for the use of such designated energy infrastructure corridors."

Designated are Interstate 89 between I-93 and the Vermont border, Interstate 93 between the Massachusetts and Vermont borders, and Interstate 95 between the Massachusetts and Maine borders.

The bill would not mandate burial of future transmission lines.

Voting to bring HB 626 back were Ford and Brown and state Reps. Brad Bailey, R-Monroe; Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton; Paul Ingbretson, R-Pike; Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill; Linda Massimilla, D-Littleton; Wayne Moynihan, D-Dummer; Laurence Rappaport, R-Colebrook; Leon Rideout, R-Lancaster; John Tholl, R-Whitefield; and John Fothergill, R-Colebrook.

 Voting to keep it tabled were State Rep. Herb Richardson, R-Lancaster, and state Rep. Edmond Gionet, R-Lincoln.

On Thursday, Richardson said it's not a bill specifically about Northern Pass and he voted against it because burial along the state's main arteries would "kill the tourist industry" during construction and ultimately result in higher costs for utility rate payers because utility companies would have to pay the cost to widen the shoulders of the highways, where the lines would go.

 "If they do move the highway, it would be at ratepayer expense and we pay too much now," he said.

Richardson also said, "To dig the roads up will only affect upstate and the tourist industry."

Rappaport, who in past years sponsored similar bills encouraging transmission line burial, disagreed and said, "Just the opposite. Tourists aren't going to go to some place that's ugly."

 Cost-effective burial technology is available and the bill proposed "makes sense for the whole state," said Rappaport.

For those who want to buy property in the state, designated energy corridors would give them piece of mind in that towers and lines will not go near their property and reduce its value, he said.

Of HB 626 getting off the table, Rappaport said, "I'm on cloud nine on that one."

The bill now goes to House Finance Committee before it goes back to the full House and then, if passing a full House vote, to the N.H. Senate.

 In August, after years of fighting against buried line, Northern Pass announced it would bury 52 miles of its proposed 192-mile line that would stretch from the Canadian border to Deerfield.

 Opponents of overhead lines, citing adverse impacts to property values, tourism and the region's scenic beauty, say the company can feasibly bury all of it, but is unwilling because of profit or property tax reasons.