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My Turn

Psst, PSNH, why not join the 21st century?

Infrastructure and plans are outdated

Late one night during the June deluge, I was about to turn in when we lost power. I have sleep apnea and rely on electricity to run my CPAP, a device (it looks like Darth Vader’s mask) that lets me breathe while I sleep. My apnea is so bad that without the CPAP I don’t bother going to bed.

After reading by head lamp in the dark for 45 minutes I called PSNH. Every time I’ve called about losing power, I’ve gotten a digital message prompting me to answer the reason for my call. I’d say “outage” and the message would verify that the company was aware of the problem and give an estimated time for the fix. But this one was different.

My call gave PSNH its primary notice for the outage. When your call is first, the digital message warns you that if PSNH sends someone to investigate and the problem is somewhere in your home, you’ll pay. The prompt then asks, “Are you sure you want to report an outage?”

I wasn’t. I turned off the battery-powered light, let my eyes adjust and looked through the window into the cloud covered pitch-black while listening to my neighbor’s back-up generator. I then checked the electrical circuits. From what I could see none were tripped. At that point I realized I was the “smart” part of the PSNH grid.

I took the risk and reported the outage with the prospect of sleep as my reward.

Within minutes a woman from PSNH called my cell phone to make sure that I wanted to report the power was out. She reiterated that no one else had called, and if I got it wrong I would pay. She asked if I had checked the electrical panel in the house. I said I had but would again. While double-checking, I described the absence of light and the sound of the neighbor’s backup generator to her. More than anything, I think the generator did the trick. She issued the work order.

About a half hour later, the power came on.

Given this experience I wondered: How is it that the company that transmits our electricity and uses a sophisticated digital voice technology to take calls lacks the ability to detect power outages by digital means?

I found Jamie White’s piece (“Northern Pass really just a real estate deal,” Monitor Opinion page, July 30) the single most cogent take on PSNH’s role in the Northern Pass hydroelectric project. I was struck in particular by his characterization of the towers as a “outdated industrial infrastructure.” Here is why.

Sixteen years ago, my wife’s cousin brought his family to the United States on holiday. They stopped to visit us in Hopkinton, a beautiful, old New England town. They’re from a small town set in the

spectacle of the Austrian Alps. Her cousin is a teacher, a mountaineer and a world traveler.

We went outside on the porch for lunch. From where he sat, he looked out on the lines that hung from the utility poles on the road. In a flat, matter-of-fact tone he said, “It looks like Egypt.”

Is it an exaggeration to say that the Northern Pass Project’s greater scars and towers at jaw-dropping heights across the landscape will ruin our tourist economy and real estate values? I don’t know.

I do know that the outdated industrial infrastructure planned for this project will benefit capital markets, corporate values and private gain.

I do know that most of the electricity from it will go to our south. I do know that New Hampshire’s tourist economy and real estate values will bear the greatest risk for this infrastructure. I do know that electricity transmission projects like this one, but with buried lines, are not uncommon or new.

Never mind that there’s nothing renewable about the project’s power.

How about putting a little energy into the grid so that we might keep pace with modernity?

(Terry Cronin lives in Hopkinton.)

Legacy Comments6

I am impressed that Martin Murray has for once stepped outside the box from PSNH's marketing speak, and attempted to address directly some of the points raised by Mr. Cronin. Yet Mr. Murray's rebuttal lacks conviction. How can he claim NP's infrastructure will be modern? Towers are towers no matter how much you dress them up, paint them, or redesign the lattice work. One could say the horse and buggy was more modern by putting newer shock absorbers on it or adding more efficient wheels. It would still get me from A to B, but it would still be obsolete and the inefficient option of choice. One thing Mr. Murray never mentions is that Hydro-Quebec actually advocate burial. Their literature claims that it is both "low impact and affordable", "installation is very simple", "there are no EMF issues" for health concerns, and it is an "efficient use of rights of way". In fact, a project they buried in Australia had an average right of way width of only 13'. The costs are declining while overhead costs are increasing. This is what Hydro-Quebec says - what say you, Mr. Murray? Oh.. and when are you going to have that open debate you've been touting? I believe Jim Dannis' invitation still stands.

I have never been to Egypt so I can't comment there, but I have been to the Eastern Townships in Quebec, and if that's the direction that Hydro-Quebec/Northern Pass is trying to head New Hampshire in, it will surely ruin landscapes and the tourist concerns that are dependent upon them as well as the second home industry that will increasingly have to site new residences on available land near the PSNH ROW. One criticism of the project that Northern Pass never denies is that if Hydro Quebec succeeds this time, it will want to ship more and more power down the NH corridor in subsequent years. And it won't need approvals next time. Mr. Murray's claim that overhead lattice towers and monopoles are modern infrastructure is wrong, plain and simple. Overhead transmission lines are the past; the wave of the future is buried lines. Underground cable maker ABB Light is certain enough of that that it is building a manufacturing facility in North Carolina right now. If PSNH really wanted to help out economic development in the North Country, it would develop a facility in Colebrook or Berlin to train workers in high tech modern jobs, underground cable installation. But that's not what you're going to hear in Lancaster tomorrow as Northern Pass spreads money around to try to buttress its bogus legal strategy to take private land for its new route. And Mr. Murray does not tell you the important facts about the existing Phase 2 HVDC line that goes through Hopkinton. Phase 2 considered the PSNH ROW for its route some 25 years ago and rejected it. Why? Primarily because it is too narrow, as little as 150' - 225' wide in long stretches. Phase 2 chose a ROW 350' wide instead. This wider ROW allowed for lower towers - and it's why Mr. Cronin's town hasn't been ruined by an HVDC line even if a visitor from Austria found this infractructure sadly primitive. In contrast, PSNH's narrow ROW is forcing Northern Pass to propose higher towers that in turn have the scenic and economic impact upon NH. It is also forcing Northern Pass to build towers as high as 120'-130' within 30' of the easement boundary. This crowding directly contravenes FERC recommendations issued in 2004 and 2012 for the safe siting of new transmission lines. Northern Pass's proposal is not only antiquated, it is unsafe and endangers NH. New Hampshire residents will be shocked when they find out how close to their residences the proposed new overhead lines would be - and there would be two new lines, the HVDC - HVAC from Quebec and 90 miles of PSNH lines rebuilt with higher structures. Look at the town maps at carefully and you'll instance after instance of new towers and wires crowded close enough to the easement edge to fall on residences or to have trees fall in upon them. None of this would happen if the lines were buried.

I challenge the following statements as they are False: .......most of the electricity from it will go to our south - that takes a lack of under standing of an electrical GRID........tourist economy and real estate values will bear the greatest risk for this infrastructure------There are currently power lines all across NH....... buried lines, are not uncommon-----The are in the GRANITE state - we are built on ROCK ........ there’s nothing renewable about the project’s power---- that does not pass the laugh test

Mr. Cronin's variety of criticisms run from a power outage that was restored in about 30 minutes, to a traveler from Austria who thinks bucolic Hopkinton resembles Egypt (really?), to his belief that the proposed Northern Pass project will not benefit New Hampshire. While I've never been to Egypt and can't vouch for its beauty, I can reassure Mr. Cronin that the energy transmitted by the Northern Pass will indeed serve New Hampshire customers, as well as those in other New England states. It's infrastructure will be modern, and its siting, mainly within rights of way where power lines exist today, will not deter visitors nor home buyers. Indeed, an existing transmission line, of larger size than the planned Northern Pass, passes through Mr. Cronin's hometown of Hopkinton today. Yet, it is a wonderful place to live, and to host world travelers. Martin Murray, Northern Pass LLC. 

Mr. Murray beats around the bush as he attempts to avoid the main issue [Headline] regarding the use of outdated, dangerous and vulnerable overhead lines instead of the state of the art, modern, underground technology currently being used in other New England power projects. They need to use overhead transmission to restrict the route to their own right of ways in order to monopolize the revenue for themselves. If they did the right thing and buried the line by the interstate, they would have to share the wealth with the state that makes this project possible in the first place - and they don't want to share - they want it all for themselves. The only place they have proposed burying the line is on private property under town roads that they don't own and couldn't buy their way around. Now that no. pass has admitted that "sail" is wrong and burial in NH is feasible, the Legislature should protect NH by passing a law mandating underground transmission for lines of this magnitude - especially private, for profit, [merchant] lines like this whose power is needed in CT - where underground is mandated - but not NH [where we already have more overhead lines than other New England states and are already being compared to the under developed world by tourists who see them]

Forgive me for saying so but your initial comments about my column left me in wonder of your ability to read and comprehend a simple declarative sentence. As I am unfamiliar with them, I suspect this is what passes for clever gamesmanship in a blog. Otherwise, though you did address the matter of the outdated towers for the Northern Pass Project, you missed the other major point that there is nothing “smart” –think digital technology— about the PSNH grid, at least not in Hopkinton. What plans does PSNH have to this end?

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