New Hampshire Views: Eventually, we’ll need the power Northern Pass can deliver
If you are like us, the Northern Pass debate is something first thought foreign to those living in the southern New Hampshire. After all, it involves places we seldom visit like Pittsburg, nearly four hours from the Seacoast. Over time, however, we have come to understand its importance – even in ways unexpected.
Northern Pass is a cooperative effort by Public Service of New Hampshire and Hydro-Québec to bring hydroelectric power south. To do this PSNH wants to build 187 miles of transmission lines which will feed a terminal to be built in Franklin. The project has been controversial if for no other reason than the unsightly towers first proposed to carry power lines from Canada. But other concerns have meant opposition as well.
In response to the possibility PSNH could use eminent domain to secure land for transmission lines, the Legislature prohibited the use of eminent domain for any project not deemed essential by a government formula used to set tariffs. But that wasn’t enough for opponents who mounted a massive effort to buy land and secure conservation easements to block any proposed route. In the end, however, it appears PSNH has been able to announce an unobstructed route that outruns efforts to block the project.
As an unexpected consequence this means PSNH and opponents wind up with land not needed in the battle over transmission lines. For opponents this is still a victory because they have been able to preserve that much more of New Hampshire for future generations. There is hope that PSNH will turn some of its no longer needed acreage to the same purpose.
But all this is secondary to the essential debate now that PSNH has secured a route and promised to bury many miles of transmission lines that might otherwise spoil some of New Hampshire’s scenic vistas. That debate is the need for the hydroelectric project.
While it is possible to argue the project is not currently needed, that will not be the case for long. Electric use has ebbed for temporary reasons. The weak economy has caused many users to conserve. But as the economy brightens, a greater demand for power is expected. And when it does, the federal government is demanding we look to cleaner sources of power, which puts the Northeast between a rock and a hard place.
Coal is already in the process of being phased out, representing only 3 percent of the regions electrical output in 2012. And while nuclear could be an alternative, expansion is a politically impossible notion in the Northeast. Meanwhile, natural gas is working to secure a monopoly, generating more than 50 percent of the region’s electricity, a skyrocketing rise since 2005.
But natural gas has its limitations. Transmission lines are few throughout New England’s bedrock. And gas is in demand for other purposes. We refer readers to a report found atinstituteforenergyresearch.org titled “The Dilemma Caused by Low Cost Natural Gas,” which reads, in part:
“In a 2010 study, the American Public Power Association warned that natural gas demand is outpacing the delivery capacity of the gas infrastructure. Nearly half of the current delivery capacity was built after the previous peak natural gas demand of 22 trillion cubic feet achieved in 1972. Estimates of new pipeline capacity required range from $106 billion to $163 billion. Further, if all coal-fired generating capacity were to be replaced by natural gas capacity, the cost would be $348 billion.”
This, and more, calls for PSNH and its opponents to come to an agreement that the Northern Pass project be completed – if not because the power is needed today, but because it will be needed tomorrow.