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Without power: In Franklin, Northern Pass denial comes with a cost

  • Some of the present transmission lines that cross Route 107 in Deerfield are shown. Northern Pass project called for much taller towers. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Shoemakers Barbara and Rob Mathews said they were €œoverjoyed by the SEC’s decision to deny Eversource’s Northern Pass proposal on Friday. The Mathews family from Deerfield would have been able to see power lines from their barn. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Northen Pass towers would have gone right near the Deerfield Bible Church in the center of town. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • 9 Lions Tavern owner Tricia Lynn said she was disappointed with the SEC’s decision to deny Eversource’s application for the Northern Pass. She said she needs some reprieve from her “insane”€ electric bill, which is around $1,400 a month. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Friendly Barber owner Cindy Smith said she has mixed feelings about Northern Pass at her store in Franklin on Friday. She said she supported anything that would help the city grow.

  • Some of the present transmission lines that cross Rt. 107 in Deerfield. The Northern Pass project called for much taller towers. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Franklin mayor Tony Giunta stands outside the Thousand Acre Campground on South Main Street in Franklin on Friday. A power converter installed by Eversource there would have increased the ailing city’s tax revenue by $5 million to $7 million a year. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Franklin mayor Tony Giunta stands outside the Thousand Acre Campground on South Main Street in Franklin on Friday. A power converter installed by Eversource there would have increased the ailing city’s tax revenue by $5 million to $7 million a year GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Monday, February 05, 2018

The city of Franklin had its hopes set on Northern Pass.

It was a promising proposal for a community that has been struggling for years – Mayor Tony Giunta described the project as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity that could pay to refurbish Franklin’s neglected roadways, provide close to 500 local jobs and close the gap in school funding – about $1 million last year.

The power converter station in an abandoned campground was poised to almost double the value of all property in the city – currently about $550 million – in just two years. The new revenue in taxes was expected to be about $5 million to $7 million a year.

Then, unexpectedly, those hopes were dashed.

“I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me,” Giunta said of the moment he found out the state’s Site Evaluation Committee voted against Northern Pass. “I literally lost my breath.”

Thursday’s 7-0 decision to deny the massive energy project’s application seemed to come out of nowhere. Just three days into deliberations, the SEC ruled the project could negatively impact the state’s property values and tourism industry. It was a decision lauded by many of the 31 communities in the direct path of the power lines – but not Franklin.

In Franklin’s city hall on Friday, interim city manager Judie Milner said there was a great deal of “surprise and disappointment” among the staff.

“If Eversource decides to appeal, we will be there to stand by them and support them in any way we can,” Milner said.

Eversource purchased the closed Thousand Acres Campground on Franklin’s Route 3 in hopes of turning some of the 100-plus acres into an energy converter station, where direct current from Canada would be transformed into alternating current traveling to a substation in Deerfield, and then into the New England power grid.

The converter station would be an investment of about $400 million and yield about a 50 percent increase in tax revenue, Milner said.

The interim city manager said the project would have been “icing on the cake” of Franklin’s recent revitalization efforts, which include developing a white-water paddling park, affordable housing units in the old Franklin Mill and completing facade improvements to buildings owned by revitalization-focused nonprofit PermaCityLife.

Giunta said he worries the SEC’s denial sends a broader message about the state’s commitment to its manufacturing businesses.

One out of four people in Franklin work in manufacturing, Giunta said, and businesses were hopeful for cuts in electric costs. The decision also could deter companies that want to start up in New Hampshire, Giunta said.

But in downtown Franklin, Ralph Griffith said he wasn’t overly dismayed with the decision. He said an initial denial might force Eversource to concede a few points, but he predicted that the proposal would still go through.

“They’ll just try and try until they succeed,” he said. “It’s like a glacier. You know it’ll eventually roll over all of us – just not this time.”

Friendly Barber owner Cindy Smith said that she had mixed feelings about the project, but she supported anything that would help Franklin continue its positive growth.

“I think anything to help the town is great,” she said. “If it’s going to bring a lot of money to this town – we need it, and we should take that.”

Deerfield

In Deerfield, another community that stood to gain in tax revenue, 9 Lions Tavern owner Tricia Lynn said she was disappointed in the outcome. She said she needed some reprieve from her “insane” electric bill, which is about $1,400 a month.

“The same amount of energy at a similar place in California is half that cost,” Lynn said. “Why are they gouging us?”

Lynn said the people most effected by the decision are seniors on fixed incomes, and new families that need lower bills.

“Unfortunately, the people who are vocal are the ones that can pay their bills, so they don’t care about the cost,” she said. “They’re the ones that have the time to go to these hearings and make their cases. These young parents that are working don’t have the time.”

But not everyone saw the rejection as a loss.

Shoemakers Barbara and Rob Mathews said they were “overjoyed” with the decision. They have been living in Deerfield for 40 years, and would have been able to see Northern Pass power lines from the field behind their barn.

“It was a David and Goliath situation – our town against a powerful corporation with money and influence,” Barbara said. “Somehow, the little guy won.”

The Mathews family said the fight with Eversource seems far from over, but they were encouraged that the SEC was taking residents’ concerns seriously.

“I don’t want to predict or be over confident, but I think it would be hard to come back from a 7-0 denial to an approval,” Barbara said.

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)