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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
This story has been updated to correctly reflect Rep. Robert Backus’ hometown.