Hi 16° | Lo -9°

My Turn: Northern Pass: Burying line is far too pricey

Opponents of the Northern Pass transmission project, many of whom would allegedly support the project if all 187 miles were buried, often point to the 333-mile, “totally buried” Champlain Hudson Power Express project as an example of economic underground transmission burial. While the projects offer similarities in that they both deliver reliable, base load hydroelectricity from Canada, the terrain and other nuances of the projects make an apples-apples comparison impossible.

CHPE is a 333-mile project that will carry 1,000 megawatts of electricity from Canada to Long Island. The price is estimated to be $2.2 billion, which will include a substation and the burial of 333 miles of transmission lines: 196 miles under water (Lake Champlain and the Hudson/Harlem Rivers) and 137 miles under existing railroad rights-of-way. The underground section of this project will be the first of its kind – no project of this capacity and distance has ever been built underground anywhere, despite statements to the contrary made by members of the New Hampshire Senate. Currently, the longest underground burial in the world is the Murraylink connector in Australia which connects Berri in South Australia and Red Cliffs in Victoria. The project is 112 miles long, but it has a capacity of only 220 megawatts, which alleviates many of the engineering difficulties (and expense) when operating at 1,200 megawats as Northern Pass does.

Information about the costs of construction of the CHPE are not publicly available, but comparisons can be made to similar types of projects. The submarine section of the CHPE will be the least expensive section to lay – at approximately $1 million per mile – because laying underwater power cables is far easier and less time-consuming than underground or even above-ground construction. Underwater cable laying is also a well established industry methodology, even at 1,000 megawatts, so much of the engineering problems have been well resolved.

Estimates for substations vary, but the Hertel substation will likely cost in the neighborhood of $250 million – which means that the remaining 137 miles of underground burial will cost $1.75 billion or on the order of $12.8 million per mile. This is more than double the $6.2 million per mile cost associated with Northern Pass – including the nearly 8 miles of underground burial.

Why would the underground portion cost so much relative to the rest of the project? This is due to the difficult and demanding engineering requirements when you bury such high capacity direct current lines, even along existing rights of way.

Northern Pass is a 187-mile, 1,200-megawatt project that will bring hydroelectricity from Canada to a converter terminal in Franklin, then to an existing substation in Deerfield, where it will enter the grid. Northern Pass is estimated to cost $1.4 billion. If Northern Pass were to “bury it all or not at all” as some opponents have opined, the cost of burying the line would be $2.4 billion. This is assuming the same burial cost as CHPE at $12.8 million per mile – which may even be too low given the differences in topography between the two projects. The CHPE underground portion is through the Hudson River Valley while Northern Pass has to go through granite bedrock and mountainous terrain. Add the $250 million for the Franklin converter station and the total project cost would balloon to $2.65 billion – nearly double the current estimate. Northern Pass developers have been telling us for some time that a total burial would make the project uneconomical, which basic mathematics makes very clear.

Why can CHPE pay so much for its line burial while a similar strategy would make Northern Pass uneconomical? Keep in mind that the pot of gold at the end of the Champlain-Hudson Express rainbow is 25 cent per kilowatt-hour retail electricity rates in New York City – something I’m sure New Hampshire residents could do without – but offers a fat incentive to the developers and financers of the project. Instead, it looks as if New Hampshire would see wholesale electricity rates from Northern Pass on the order of 5-6 cents, which would be a great benefit to the businesses and families in our region that pay some of the highest electricity prices in the country.

We all want lower electricity costs, as high costs are making it harder for businesses, especially manufacturers to justify doing business here. Northern Pass appears to be able to deliver those lower prices while still remaining an economically viable project. Those who point to CHPE as the example need to take out a pencil and do the math themselves.

(Tiler Eaton of Nottingham is a representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a journeyman lineman for close to 30 years.)


New England Views: Gains outweigh costs for hydropower from Quebec

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The rolling hills of northern New Hampshire are among the treasures of New England, and the prospect of an elevated power line cutting across the face of these ranges instinctively seems distressing. This sort of fear – of the destruction of natural beauty as well as the disruption to the local tourism industry due to this damage – has characterized …

My Turn: Northern Pass’s Lincoln open house: corporate marketing, lacking answers

Monday, September 16, 2013

On the evening of Sept. 11, residents of Easton were afforded the opportunity to attend a Northern Pass “open house” in Lincoln. The 40-mile round trip unfortunately confirmed what is now emerging in press reports: Northern Pass has staged yet another hollow and expensive public relations event. Questions about the project’s likely impacts were unanswered. Realistic options, such as burial …

My Turn: Is PSNH on the wrong side of history?

Monday, September 16, 2013

For about 100 years, the trend in the generation of electricity for public consumption was toward bigger and bigger power plants, culminating in shopping-mall-sized generators at nuclear plants and unimaginably huge hydropower developments. For most of that time, larger power plants led to more efficient operation and lower-cost electricity. Then several factors converged that changed everything. The Seabrook class of …

Legacy Comments9

It's the same old tired line that the utilities have always used in an attempt to maximize their profits, but when push comes to shove, the line always gets buried because some profit is always better than no profit. psnh of CT is used to getting their own way no matter the costs to NH ratepayers or our state but those days are over. No more free rides at our expense. They are going to have to work with us instead of against us and if they won't, they can go back to CT where burial is mandatory. If these young kids want jobs working on transmission lines, they should learn to run an excavator. There's no future in overhead transmission around here.

This is a completely nonpartisan issue. People from across the political spectrum have found common ground opposing no. pass. ISO-New England regulators have determined that no. pass is "unneeded to maintain system reliability" - even with the closing of VT Yankee. Fear mongering won't work. The answer is so clear. It's right in the proposal's name - NO PASS!

with Obama and the democrats shutting power plants across America and the closing of VT Yankee nuclear plant - there is no time left to debate the visual purists NIMBY's frivolous position - this has to be built now to keep America running you have ANYTHING to say that doesn't criticize the President or Democrats for everything. And, YES, I am officially a NIMBY. Should the towers run through Concord, I will have a 70 footer about 100 feet away and watch my home's value drop about 20 percent. And, NO, it doesn't have to be built to keep America running-NO WAY !!

I agree with Grafton_resident, let another contractor come in and give an estimate. Also, CHPE's cost is more like $6M/mile. You'd do well to read the CLF's paper on this. But assuming you are correct, the whole project underground would cost $2.65B? So, how does that compare to the profits they are set to make on this line if it goes through? I've heard (yes heard, NP isn't really as free with the info as they'd like us to believe) they stand to make around $40B. That's 15 times more than they invested, when's the last time you got a return like that?

The main reason for NP is to bail out PSNH (aka Northern Utilities).

Don't build it then. Another developer will find a way to sell that power to southern New England, somewhere, somehow. You'd be better off spending your time getting Northern Pass to understand they'll have to figure it out or forget it. Your bread is buttered on the burial side.

the NIMBY VISUAL PURISTS simply are too self centered to understand that this is a necessary project for all of America

After almost 3 years are people really still falling for the idea that if Northern Pass was ever actually approved that NH consumers of electricity would see any significant reduction in their monthly electrical bill? At the DOE scoping hearings 2 years ago the Northern Pass was forced to admit it would only provide electricity at comparible current market rates, which here in NH are the 4th highest in the United States. Anybody that wants to see real savings like $15.00 less a month needs to do what tens of thousands of NH residents and electrical consumers have already done and easily switch to the various elctrical suppliers such as ENH Power or Fairpoint Energy to name a couple. Oh and by the way, no I'm not employed by either of the providers I just mentioned. I'm just one resident that made the switch almost 2 years ago and have been able to see significant savings without any "new towers".

Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.