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My Turn: Suddenly, Northern Pass doesn’t look unstoppable

Now that leaders from both New Hampshire’s political parties have registered their serious reservations about the Northern Pass hydroelectric energy project, maybe it’s time to acknowledge the obvious: The wheels have fallen off the bus.

In recent weeks Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and state Senate Republican Leader Jeb Bradley have weighed in and signaled that, contrary to PSNH’s unrelenting public relations campaign and full-page newspaper ads, the Northern Pass is not a done deal. The governor, in a Boston Globe column, said, “Expanding traditional energy sources like large-scale hydropower does not mean just accepting what Northern Pass has put on the table.” And Bradley announced at the U.S. Department of Energy hearing in Plymouth, “We should send a message: Bury the lines.”

There has also been some clear evidence in the past week that nearly all the Northern Pass supporters are those with a direct financial interest, including those at the Department of Energy hearing in Concord wearing “Support Clean Energy – Support Northern Pass” T-shirts. One estimate of the audience at the Sept. 24 hearing in Plymouth was 650 opposed to Northern Pass, eight in support.

Preceding the federal scoping hearings, Northern Pass has been holding informational meetings across the state to try to make the case that the revised route announced in July, with 8 of 140 miles of transmission lines now to be underground, is a reasonable alternative.

Remember, dozens of North Country towns voted to oppose the project; the Legislature has passed a law to prevent Northern Pass’s use of eminent domain; and more editorials, columns and letters to the editor than I can count have registered opposition to the permanent scar this unnecessary project will make on New Hampshire’s landscape.

But rather than respond to the opposition’s concerns and questions with honest answers, Northern Pass offered only bogus informational sessions, with a police presence at the door and no unscripted questions or comments allowed. Citizens were ushered out the door if there was even a hint of skepticism on their lips, and the follow-up was always the same boilerplate letter to the editor from Northern Pass, thanking the locality for the chance to “clear up any misconceptions you may have had about the project.

In July, PSNH’s longtime President Gary Long announced his resignation, so he could devote all his time to advancing the Northern Pass. This came as a surprise because of the many pending regulatory matters in which Long has been the principal voice for PSNH for years and where his expertise would seem to be critical. But since his transition to Northern Pass from PSNH, Long has been remarkably silent.

The company now seems to be relying on labor to make its case for the Northern Pass, and while the IBEW workers’ support for the project’s presumed 1,200 jobs is understandable, it is also short-sighted: The vast majority of these will be temporary and the permanent jobs will not be in New Hampshire.

All of this smells like desperation to me.

I have written before that Northeast Utilities, PSNH and Hydro Quebec, the primary partners in the Northern Pass Project, are seemingly an insurmountable force, with their significant financial resources and their many full-time lobbyists and consultants.

But something has changed, and it is not just the power of New Hampshire citizens who have stood up to this monstrosity and said No, or the fact that policy-makers clearly see the lack of benefits the project will bring our state.

What’s happened is the Northern Pass Project itself. It has operated on the “Perception is Reality” theory since Day 1, and that has finally begun to come apart. But as the wheels have started to fall off the bus, Northern Pass and its spokesmen have not readjusted their marketing, their strategy or, most important, their proposal. They have continued to try to sell the same plan they have had since the beginning. But burying 8 miles of transmission lines is not a reasonable alternative.

And the reality is that there are no throngs of regular New Hampshire citizens supporting the Northern Pass, there is no need for this imported energy for our state, there will be no significant influx of new jobs to New Hampshire from this project, and this is not green energy.

(Joe Drinon lives in Bow.)

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