My Turn: Northern Pass continues down a dead-end road
In January, we published a piece pointing out Northern Pass’s refusal to take seriously the objections of affected residents. We wrote that “this refusal dooms Northern Pass to travel a long, uncertain and potentially dead-end road. It dooms New Hampshire to protracted conflict over this issue, perhaps resulting in much that is lost and nothing that is gained.”
Now, half a year later, the Northern Pass bus is stalled near the end of that dead-end road.
PSNH President Bill Quinlan’s recent public acknowledgement of the seriousness of the aesthetic impact is an important change. Northeast Utilities, PSNH’s parent company and the developer of Northern Pass, should seize this opportunity to offer real, innovative solutions capable of addressing the fundamental divide between them and affected communities and private property owners.
Like most opponents, Nancy Martland would accept a buried line, despite questioning the notion that Hydro-Quebec’s massive dams flooding millions of acres of carbon-absorbing trees would actually help us fight climate change. Privately funded buried projects are moving forward all around us in Maine, Vermont, New York and Quebec. And yet, Northern Pass continues to insist that burial is problematic and will not consider using it except in very limited special circumstances.
Granite is not the problem. Laying cable along a softened highway or rail corridor removes that issue. There is buried fiber-optic cable along Interstate 93 between the Massachusetts border and Concord. There is a buried gas pipeline on the PSNH right-of-way across northern New Hampshire. The argument that burial can’t be done on a larger scale simply does not ring true.
Proponents such as Mayor Paul Grenier worry about projected electricity shortfalls and are left to wonder why Northeast Utilities is unwilling to do what is necessary to bring this power to southern New England.
The original plan was to begin construction in 2013 and deliver power next year. Because of Northeast Utilities’ intransigence, this project will deliver no power to southern New England next year. In fact, we have no idea when or if any electricity will ever reach us from this project. Surely a slightly higher construction cost is worth it to both Hydro-Quebec and to Northeast Utilities to bring this power south.
New England faces serious challenges to our energy system. Northeast Utilities should be acting in our best interest by finding a responsible way to provide the needed power as soon as possible. Their unwillingness to bend all but guarantees that southern New England will be waiting many years before seeing any Northern Pass power.
In fact, it may never be seen it at all. Other projects in other states, facing little if any public resistance, will likely bring their electricity to market while Northern Pass is still tied up in court. The developers of those other projects are taking advantage of the smoother path enjoyed by designs that eliminate the collateral environmental damage associated with overhead transmission lines.
What needs to be done?
Our advice remains the same as it was six months ago:
“We both believe that Northern Pass must recognize legitimate objections from affected communities. We are convinced that a responsible solution can be found, but only in the presence of honest dialogue among all the stakeholders involved, and a willingness by the developer to address key objections in a real and meaningful manner. Otherwise, Northern Pass is headed for a brick wall of public resistance, drawn-out litigation, permitting disputes, legislative remedies and other roadblocks.”
There is still an opportunity for Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec to see reason and avoid the years of all-consuming conflict that await them if they refuse to propose a buried project, but the window is closing.
This time, we hope that Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec will heed our advice. Time is running out.
(Paul Grenier is the mayor of Berlin. Nancy Martland is a member of Sugar Hill Tower Opponents.)