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Concord adamant on burial of Northern Pass power lines

  • A July 2017 chart shows relative height of Northern Pass poles versus buildings. Proposed towers carrying lines over an I-393 bridge could be taller than the State House dome. Courtesy of City of Concord



Monitor staff
Saturday, July 08, 2017

State hearings on the Northern Pass project have been going on for two and a half months now, but Concord hasn’t heard anything to change its opinion that the power lines should be buried as they travel through the city.

City officials might even be more adamant about burying lines because of a hike in proposed tower heights near Interstate 393, following Department of Transportation concerns.

“The city’s position is still that the line should be buried through the city. The city council has said that if Eversource is unwilling to bury it, the application should be denied as proposed,” said Danielle Pacik, deputy city attorney, representing Concord in the Site Evaluation Committee hearings.

The city added a Northern Pass-specific page, concordnh.gov/northernpass, to its official website this week. It urges city residents to contact the Site Evaluation Committee so they can comment in person at the next public hearings – at 49 Donovan St. in Concord on July 20 – or at future hearings.

The trial-like proceedings, with scores of witnesses each questioned by multiple sides, started April 13 and are expected to continue at least through August. They will determine whether the state approves the application from Eversource and HydroQuebec to build a 192-mile transmission line from Pittsburg to Deerfield.

While burying the power lines is the city’s preference, Pacik added, it’s possible that an alternative could meet its concerns about the line’s effect in Concord. “If Eversource is willing to come up with an alternative that has significantly less impact, the city would be willing to take a look at it,” she said.

Eversource has not changed its proposal for the project, which involves towers 100 feet tall or taller carrying 1,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power – almost the output of Seabrook Station nuclear plant – from Quebec into the New England grid. About 60 miles of the lines in the North Country would be buried.

Towers carrying the line over an I-393 bridge could be as tall as 160 feet because of concerns from the state Department of Transportation. The DOT wants enough clearance to use cranes on the bridge for possible construction. Similar concerns led Unitil to shift some power lines away from the bridge.

At 160 feet, those towers would be the tallest along the entire route and taller than the State House dome.

As proposed, Northern Pass would be built on an existing power right of way that enters Concord from Canterbury east of Interstate 93 and run southeast, crossing I-393 and passing through the Heights and over the Soucook River into Pembroke, where it turns sharply and heads east.

Although the line would be in a right of way, Northern Pass towers would be much taller than existing powerline towers because they carry considerably more electricity, making them more visually intrusive. The city hired a consultant to do what is called a viewshed analysis, to judge who could see the new towers. It found that some towers could be seen in parts of the city as far west as Diamond Hill, near Hopkinton, while others would be visible from the second or higher floors of some downtown buildings on Main Street.

On another issue, Pacik said Concord is still pushing to have economic information about the line, including the price being paid to HydroQuebec for power, made public. The SEC has kept such information under wraps, as well as a portion of testimony provided by Northern Pass expert Julia Frayer, because Northern Pass says it is proprietary.

The Site Evaluation Committee is made up of representatives of the Public Utilities Commission, of a number of state departments covering economic and environmental issues, and the public.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)