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My Turn: We don’t want yesterday’s technology for tomorrow’s energy needs

Senate Bill 200 sets policy that is right for New Hampshire. Creation of a well-defined underground infrastructure corridor demonstrates that we are happy to have large-scale energy projects here, but we don’t want yesterday’s technology for tomorrow’s energy needs. It enables the state to recover revenue through leasing agreements, and it protects the interests of private property owners in a way that is business friendly. The Senate should pass this bill.

The past two decades have seen a dramatic change in options for high voltage, long-line transmission of electricity. New technology allows developers to avoid perhaps the most objectionable characteristic of old-fashioned overhead lines: visual impact.

Recently, overhead transmission has become a contentious issue in our state – the proposed Northern Pass transmission project illustrates why we need to upgrade our siting policies.

Transmission projects moving Canadian power have popped up all around us in New York, Vermont, Maine and Quebec. All feature underground design – it is only in New Hampshire that underground design is absent.

This debate is not about new energy sources and or reliable supplies. It is about moving electricity through our state in a way that addresses our needs, incorporates modern design, and removes negative impact. SB 200 ensures that New Hampshire will have up to date policies that encourage state of the art, low-impact underground technology.

It brings us into line with neighbors like Maine, and positions us to lead the energy development of the future.

The Northern Pass controversy has made it starkly clear that the public prefers underground transmission lines.

∎ Overhead lines have an undeniable negative effect. Their presence degrades the landscape. Underground lines reduce degradation to nearly zero.

∎ Landscape degradation exerts downward force on property values, which hurts private property owners.

∎ Degraded landscapes interfere with people’s capacity to enjoy the land. The ability to enjoy one’s property is enshrined in our Constitution. It is a core New Hampshire value.

∎ Unspoiled landscape is a mainstay of our economy. It is our brand, our identity, our stock in trade. It differentiates us from New Jersey.

∎ Perhaps most compelling, the public knows that lower impact options exist, which raises the question “Why should we settle for a more destructive option?”

Everywhere you look, objections to overhead lines are present. The voters of 33 towns on the Northern Pass route, for example, demonstrated their objection by voting against them at town meetings. The chambers of commerce of the North Country, Littleton, Franconia Notch, Lincoln-Woodstock and Plymouth rejected overhead lines. The North Country Council has as well. Gov. Maggie Hassan has made her opposition plain, as has our entire federal delegation. The House recently passed HB 569, which expresses a preference for underground lines. The U.S. Department of Energy, in its draft environmental impact statement on Champlain-Hudson Power Express, recognizes the superiority of underground lines in terms of visual impact.

There is consensus on this question. New Hampshire policy should reflect it.

Adoption of new technology can be daunting. Some quarters of the energy industry resist change, preferring to stick with old-fashioned transmission methods. That is not a good enough reason for private property owners to settle for something less than their neighbors in Vermont, Maine, New York and Quebec enjoy.

Underground lines are demonstrably practical. The SB361 Commission’s extensive examination of the feasibility of underground lines in New Hampshire resulted in a clear conclusion: Underground lines are feasible, practical, and a reasonable option for our state. Within 500 miles of Concord there are at least 11 underground projects either in active service or in various stages of development.

And developers will enter a friendly environment:

∎ Developers of underground lines want to move Canadian power south, and would enter the New Hampshire marketplace if welcomed.

∎ Corridors on softened rights of way create ideal conditions for buried lines, with costs comparable to old-fashioned overhead lines.

∎ A streamlined leasing arrangement makes it easy for developers to enter the market here.

SB 200 is a measured, reasonable effort to bring New Hampshire into line with current practice, similar to what we see in neighboring states. Covering only elective projects, it would benefit New Hampshire in several important ways. It would bring significant leasing income to the state. It would create a fair, market-based approach to electricity transmission. It would protect private property owners. It would preserve New Hampshire’s iconic landscape. And it would add a new, innovative sector to our energy business portfolio.

(Nancy Martland lives in Sugar Hill.)

Legacy Comments1

It would be nice if such comprehensive logic and reason was controlling the message about large scale power transmission but everywhere you look are self serving ads that try to justify using an outdated and more vulnerable overhead method instead. The tone deaf and blatant refusal to listen to the long list of towns and the thousands of people affected by the damaging proposal of foreign and out of state developers has proven the need for legislation in this area and the author clearly explains how SB 200 is an excellent compromise. A win - win - win for towns, residents, property and small business owners - developers - and NH State revenue coffers. SB 200 recently came out of committee with an "Ought to Pass" recommendation. Ask your Senator to support SB 200 when it soon comes before the full Senate for a vote.

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