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Northern Pass opponents redirecting their fight

Like most everyone else following Northern Pass, the selectmen in Stewartstown had no idea before Thursday that project leaders had decided the solution to their route problems was running about eight miles of transmission line under local roads.

Selectman Allen Coates said he got word at 7:15 a.m. Thursday, about four hours before the news was made public, from Scott Mason, a North Stratford farmer working for Northern Pass. Hasen Burns, chairman of the selectmen, got a similar call.

“(Mason) said it was going to be on the news . . . that they were going to bury it under the town roads,” Coates said. “And then he proceeded to tell me how much money in taxes that would mean.”

The announcement Thursday hasn’t left the selectmen, whose town has voted twice to oppose Northern Pass, much time to explore a response. Ditto for other opponents, such as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and lawmakers who’ve especially objected to Northern Pass’s plan to run its 187-mile transmission line atop towers taller than most trees.

Burns said one of the select board’s first calls will be to the town’s lawyer to learn who has control over the roads in Stewartstown that Northern Pass is eyeing. State transportation officials declined comment yesterday, but the state manual governing the authority and use of state and local roads suggests those are extremely complicated questions.

“I guess it’s safe to say that the general feeling of the board is that it’s the peoples’ roads, not us three selectmen’s roads,” Burns said. “The people will have their chance to vote on it, or at the very least have public hearing on it.”

Other opponents are looking to the Legislature, hoping there is time to rewrite the state’s energy policies in time to influence Northern Pass.

Gov. Maggie Hassan recently signed a Senate bill that could drastically rewrite the way the state’s Site Evaluation Committee decides whether to approve large energy projects like Northern Pass. And there are at least two legislative studies beginning this summer focused on energy policy. One looks at requiring elective transmission lines like Northern Pass to be buried; the other will explore putting future power lines within existing transportation corridors.

“It’s whether the state adopts policies that pay attention to protecting its greatest assets,” said Will Abbott, vice president for policy and land management for the forest society. “We think it’s possible to provide for New Hampshire’s and New England’s energy future without scarring the landscape. Strategically, it’s not just a battle against Northern Pass. It’s about the state’s future.”

Rep. Laurence Rappaport, a Colebrook Republican, sponsored the bills that led to study committees. Rappaport was also the lead sponsor of the bill passed last year that prohibited elective projects like Northern Pass from using eminent domain.

“All we are left up here with is tourism,” said Rappaport, after explaining that farming, logging and manufacturing have all died out. “I’m afraid (overhead transmission lines) would destroy what little we have left.”

Rappaport hopes the study committees, which he’s on, will produce legislation that can be introduced in January.

Lawmakers have gone down this road before. Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Meredith Republican, said she’s been trying for three years to pass legislation improving the state’s approach to energy projects. Last year, she led a study commission that looked at requiring transmission lines to be buried along state roadways. The effort led nowhere, she said, because of opposition from energy lobbyists and state agencies that are involved in assessing energy projects now.

Forrester said yesterday the commission’s research left her convinced that Northern Pass, which is a partnership between Public Service of New Hampshire, Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec, has not fully explored the possibility of burying all of its transmission line.

Northern Pass has said doing so would be prohibitively expensive. Bur Forrester said she’s talked with developers who have seen transmission lines buried elsewhere for distances longer than Northern Pass’s proposed 187 miles.

Forrester also led this year’s effort to study the way the state’s Site Evaluation Committee decides whether to approve projects like Northern Pass. One report evaluating the committee’s practices is due in December. The legislation also requires the committee to adopt new rules improving its process by January 2015.

Northern Pass officials said this week they intend to submit an application to the Site Review Committee in 2014. Forrester said yesterday she hopes the studies will produce new rules for the Site Evaluation Committee that allow the state and local towns more control over projects such as Northern Pass, including whether to require that transmission lines be buried.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

Legacy Comments7

Connecticut says huge towers in NH are a win-win but any towers in CT is a no-no. If they can afford to bury lines in CT, they can afford to bury them here. Yeah, let us trash NH with our primitive technology so we can have power in CT while keeping our state [CT] pristine. If you handed Edison a cell phone, he'd be lost - but if you asked him about overhead transmission lines, he could tell you all about them. We need to use modern technology like all the other states in our region - not the primitive, unsafe, and vulnerable technology of the past just because they can make bigger profits by dumping it on us. They want to trash our state to tie this foreign power into the US grid so they can have hydro power in CT while they continue to burn coal in NH. It's clear what they think of us but less clear is why this attitude is tolerated. Bury it all the way - just like in CT - or forget it.


What a surprise! Another announcement that is basically a sham. Northern Pass has no right to make these 'decisions' without permits or permission anymore than I can say I'm going to build a hotdog shack on the State House lawn because I want to make money and I want that location. This is obviously another ploy to appease the Northeast Utilities stockholders and give the impression that the project WILL happen. The opposition to this project grows every time they attempt to bully the people. It always backfires.

The article shows that no. pass officials continue to use the same strong arm tactics - Out of our way, we're coming through! - No consulting, no asking, no working with local officials or those affected - just some lines on a map and a high priced legal team that threatens to sue anyone in their way. They threatened to sue over the Balsams deal, they threatened to sue over the Connecticut Headwaters, they fought the legislation that prohibited them from using eminent domain to just take the private property they want for their get rich quick scheme. Their sense of entitlement stems from the decades of rubber stamping they have received for all their cash cow pet projects that ratepayers have been on the hook for. If the people of NH were aware of how a few state department heads hung us [and our whole state] out to dry when Senator Forrester and others worked diligently in a non partisan attempt to protect us [and our whole state] and ensure our best interests came first and foremost - there would be outrage and calls for heads to roll. Some of these same state department heads serve on the Site Evaluation Committee thus showing the clear need to revamp that area. We need our legislators and leaders to work together and put the best interests of NH before the greed of exploitative predatory developers whose only interest has always been how much money they can squeeze out of us. Email your Reps. and let them know that we expect action on our behalf. Remind them what "Representative" means and who comes first.

THIS IS A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE that the local NIMBYS want to make a visual purity issue......You'd think real Americans would be delighted by the a plentiful, renewable, reliable cheap energy supply which does not emit soot nor jam estuaries like tidal turbines nor starve Africans as biofuels do nor slaughter rare birds as wind farms do. It does not require public subsidies as solar does. It will generate a healthy stream of tax revenue . It will diminish our reliance on enemies from Iran to Moscow. This abundant cheap power supply to AMERICA is needed to grow out of the Obama Economic doldrums.

High energy prices were not the cause of the Great Recession, nor will cheaper energy prices be the means to an economic revival. The true revival will come when we begin to deal with the necessity to transition to a post-fossil fuel world, and leave as much fossil fuel in the ground as we can. The cost of gasoline, despite occasional spikes, has been relatively stable when adjusted for inflation since the 1920's. Natural gas is cheap and abundant, though there is little evidence its sources are environmentally cheap.

"Cheap" energy ( a misnomer if ever there was one) discourages innovation and the needed transition to new technologies essential to the planet's long-term health. A carbon tax--pegging the price of energy to its true cost--will speed innovation and spur economic growth.

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