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Senate holds hearing on buried lines bill

To bury or not to bury. That was the question yesterday at a Senate hearing on a bill that says the burial of electric transmission lines is preferred.

The legislation that has already passed in the House would cover future projects, including Northern Pass, which would run transmission lines through the state to bring hydropower from Canada.

During the two-hour public comment session, opponents and supporters disagreed on the feasibility and aesthetics of burying the lines.

“It provides a layer of protection for the tourism industry,” said Grafton County Commissioner Linda Lauer, who supports the legislation. She said she doesn’t want to see her scenic region overtaken by power lines, and she said she believes the state needs the bill to protect power lines from ice and wind damage.

Arielle Wolfe, with 6-year-old daughter Hazel at her side, said she doesn’t want future generations to face economic hardships brought on by the loss of tourism. “It’s pretty simple. Bury the lines, you can still get the power through the state,” she said.

But it may not be so easy.

Tiler Eaton, a representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the state’s rocky, mountainous terrain makes this type of burial project ill-suited.

“Underground transmission projects in places like New Hampshire are rare precisely because of the engineering challenges they present.” Burial can multiply costs anywhere from three to 30 times, he said.

Supporters asserted the technology is accessible and already used in similar environments.

Northern Pass critic Nancy Martland, a resident of Sugar Hill, said several extensive underground projects have already been proposed in New England and New York. “States on either side of us have materially same conditions as we have,” she said. “If they can bury their lines as it appears they can, why can’t we?”

The House passed the bill in January. It directs the state Site Evaluation Committee, a body that approves energy projects, to give preference to plans that bury transmission lines and build them along public rights of way. Last week the Senate tabled a similar bill that would have mandated burial of the lines.

The House bill “represents suggestions, not a mandate,” said its sponsor Rep. Laurence Rappaport, a Colebrook Republican, at the start of the hearing. It’s “not trying to mandate outcomes, only to provide guidance.”

Under the legislation, any transmission line “not required to system reliability and not proposed to be substantially buried will have an unreasonably adverse effect on aesthetics.”

At the hearing, some opponents said that language makes the bill problematic.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” said Rep. Robert Backus, a Manchester Democrat. It “would be a very difficult thing for the committee to administer.”

Sen. Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that held yesterday’s hearing, said after the meeting that he will take a second look at his tabled Senate bill. “We’re probably not going to be able to get a mandate through,” he said. “What the people in this room are looking for us to do is find a way to mitigate the damage. And so I want to try to create a win-win that allows the power to come into New Hampshire . . . but doesn’t harm these good folks.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

This story has been updated to correctly reflect Rep. Robert Backus’ hometown.

Legacy Comments6

This issue could have - and should have - been settled long ago. In spite of all the inaccurate, bought and paid for, discredited and debunked reasons that no. pass has come up with for not burying such large scale transmission lines along state designated pre-softened transportation corridors - in order to restrict the line to their own right of way and monopolize all the transportation fees - It is happening all around us. No one is suggesting an underground route over mountain tops, through State and National Parks, and across the Appalachian Trail like no. pass is. No one is suggesting an underground route that unfairly forces thousands of NH private property owners to subsidize the project with their reduced property value like no. pass is. Modern underground transmission @ 42 INCHES deep is a reasonable, feasible, and viable alternative to damaging, dangerous, and vulnerable overhead lines on massive towers and foundations - some 35 FEET DEEP. It becomes clear how cost comparative underground transmission is when you look at the scope of the work involved with an overhead method that follows the route proposed by no. pass. That explains why no. pass has fought so hard to keep any comparison of underground out of the discussion from the beginning by claiming it is too expensive yet doing no actual study. Underground is feasible, reasonable, and cost comparative and the people and State of NH would benefit from it as opposed to suffer damages. The people want underground, the Governor and some Legislators want underground - so what's the problem? Who are the legislators representing who oppose underground? - and why? Because it's a "mandate"? Eminent Domain [HB 648] was a mandate and it passed unanimously - after the writing was on the wall that there were enough votes to pass it. No lawmaker wants to be on record as opposing the people who elected them even though they are willing to oppose them until the vote threshold is crossed. Even a "mandate" has exceptions to mitigate any reasonable problems that arise and laws can be amended if they are later found to be inadequate - they aren't written in stone forever no matter what. CT has an underground mandate - with reasonable exceptions so why can't NH? What are we - chopped liver? If your Representative and/or Senator is voting against underground transmission, ask them why. If they can't give you a good answer, [and they can't], you can probably figure out why - don't over think it. If you get an answer, please post it here so we can all benefit.

Well said, I_love_NH.

How does Northern Pass continue to insist that burial is too expensive when they refuse to do the analysis? Meanwhile other developers across New England are moving through the permit process with little opposition because they CAN and are WILLING to bury their projects, still making substantial returns while bringing jobs and investment to their regions. Northern Pass's intransigence to work with the communities who are at the point of helping them find a solution to this impasse by doing the analysis for them is becoming almost comical, and will no doubt be a case study for future business schools on how not to launch a project.

Bob Backus is from Manchester, not “Hillsboro” (although he is a member of the Hillsborough County delegation). But also -- I’m talkin’ to you, Grafton_resident -- there is no WAY he is carrying water for Northern Pass. I am fairly confident that, as PSCo’s long-time Seabrook nemesis, Bob simply is concerned the bill will end up giving non-buried lines a better chance of being approved.

Backus had a longer litany of complaints against HB 569 than reported here. Did you hear it? If you did, I doubt you'd think he was trying to help HB 569 or some equivalent along. His constituents who don't want to see the beauty of NH trashed unnecessarily should ask him about it.

18 people spoke in favor of this bill, HB 569; 17 of them were ordinary NH citizens and their elected officials. 6 spoke against HB 569; 5 of them were hired guns who had argued against the prior bill, SB 200. Last time, Northern Pass complained that the bill was a mandate, and they oppose mandates. This time, the bill is not a mandate, and Northern Pass, via Backus, came up with a different, fussy reason they don't like it. The other arguments - e.g., can't bury ABB cable in granite - are untrue, discredited, stale. The sooner Northern Pass understands that New Hampshire will not accept its overhead project, the better. There was no sign of that happening today. The legislature is working hard to find a solution. Northern Pass is obstructing all efforts, thereby digging its own grave.

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