Hundreds of friends, foes of Northern Pass turn out at public forum in Concord
After three years of debate, the arguments over the Northern Pass project can be as familiar as the blaze-orange worn by its opponents: it will create badly needed jobs, it will damage the environment, it will help diversify the power supply for New England’s electricity grid, it will scar New Hampshire with ugly transmission towers.
But people still came out in force last night – more than 500, filling a ballroom at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord – for a chance to tell federal officials what they think about the project.
“I have 50 apprentices who would give their eyeteeth to work this job,” said Jonathan Mitchell, who runs the apprentice training program at IBEW Local 490 in Concord.
“We must keep in mind, first and foremost, that this project is not necessary to keep the lights on. It’s a ‘nice to have’ project at best – if you ignore all the environmental impacts that it will have on this state and this region,” said Bob Baker, a lawyer who lives in Columbia.
Northern Pass, with a $1.4 billion price tag, is Northeast Utilities’s plan to bring 1,200 megawatts of hydropower from Quebec to the New England power grid through New Hampshire on 187 miles of transmission lines – including, in the latest version of the plan, nearly 8 miles of underground lines.
Opposition has been strong in the North Country, where many fear the transmission towers will ruin views, harm the environment, drive down property values and cause other problems. Supporters, on the other hand, say the project will create good-paying jobs, both during construction and at the planned converter terminal in Franklin, and help diversify the region’s power supply.
Before construction can begin, the project needs approval from the federal government, which must grant permission to cross the U.S.-Canadian border and to pass through the White Mountain National Forest, and from New Hampshire’s Site Evaluation Committee.
Last night’s forum in Concord was the first of four planned this week, a so-called “scoping meeting” as the U.S. Department of Energy prepares to draw up an Environmental Impact Statement for the project. The department held seven such meetings in 2011, but after the Northern Pass submitted a revised route this summer, more meetings were scheduled to gather additional public input.
“It was, initially, poorly planned. It was poorly rolled out. The communications really left something to be desired,” said Sen. Andrew Hosmer, a Laconia Democrat and Northern Pass supporter, at a press conference ahead of last night’s meeting.
Now, Hosmer said, “The Northern Pass is looking for a second opportunity to make a first impression, and we know how difficult that is. They’ve been willing to lower the structure size, they’ve been willing to put some of these transmission lines underground. It’s not perfect, but they have shown a willingness to come to the table and to compromise.”
Hundreds of people turned out last night – many from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and wearing pro-Northern Pass T-shirts, with several bucket trucks parked outside, and many others wearing blaze-orange shirts, scarfs, hats, scarves and buttons to show their opposition.
For hours they spoke for and against the project, both in general and to address what should be included in the environmental impact statement.
“One of the things that a lot of us would like to see is a complete, detailed analysis of the costs of burying the entire length of the line,” said Rep. Neal Kurk, a Weare Republican. “I think the opposition to this project would disappear if the entire line were buried, because it’s the effect on us – as we sit on our porches and look at 135-to-150-foot towers that were not there before – and the effect on tourism that this will have, that is of great concern to us.”
Northern Pass officials have said it would be far too expensive to bury the entire length of the project, and that they’ve reduced the height of many transmission towers in the revised plan issued this summer. The common height, they say, is 85 to 95 feet.
Three more scoping meetings are planned this week: tonight at the Silver Center for the Arts in Plymouth, tomorrow at the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa in Whitefield and Thursday at Colebrook Elementary School in Colebrook. All three are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. and end at 8 p.m.
Written comments will be accepted through Nov. 5, then the Department of Energy will prepare a draft environmental impact statement. It should be ready sometime next year, and the agency will then take additional comments for at least 45 days before issuing its final report in 2015. Decisions on the federal permits will follow.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)