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N.H. House panel taking a second look at bills targeting Northern Pass-style transmission lines

It took an hour yesterday for the words “Northern Pass” to be spoken aloud as members of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee discussed three bills dealing with electric transmission lines.

But all three bills, which the committee retained this year for more work, are clearly aimed at the controversial $1.4 billion 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 conduit.

One of the bills would require new lines to be placed within existing state rights of way “to the extent possible.” Another would require all “elective” transmission lines to be buried. The third would require lines to be buried if the Public Utilities Commission doesn’t feel they are “necessary for the public good.”

All three bills will go to the House floor in January. In the meantime, the House science committee appointed a subcommittee to review the legislation in detail and suggest possible improvements.

The panel’s members spent two hours yesterday discussing details such as the availability of rights of way along state roads and railroads and how the bills should define terms like “elective,” “the extent possible” and “the public good.”

A couple of members indicated they think the bills might be premature. For one thing, the Legislature this year voted to create a 10-year state “energy strategy,” but the plan won’t be ready until 2014.

“Where do these bills fit in with what we’re doing with the 10-year state energy that we’ve funded?” asked Rep. Jackie Cali-Pitts, a Portsmouth Democrat. “It seems to me that all of these are pieces of the puzzle for the 10-year energy plan. . . . It seems to me that we’re taking a major step, and we need to do these steps in order.”

No decisions were made yesterday. And Rep. Larry Rappaport, a Republican from Colebrook, noted the bills would affect far more than just one project.

“This is not, I repeat, this is not a hearing about Northern Pass,” Rappaport said. “These bills would affect energy transmission and should be considered as such. . . . It’s global and will affect all transmission in New Hampshire, and we should consider it that way. We shouldn’t consider it on the basis of one specific project.”

But opponents of Northern Pass were well represented at yesterday’s standing-room-only meeting at the Legislative Office Building in Concord, and several spoke to the panel.

“Is it good public policy for the state of New Hampshire to protect its natural landscapes from degradation posed by energy developments? We think it is. Does current law provide adequate protection? We think it doesn’t,” said Will Abbott, a vice president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, a leading opponent of Northern Pass.

The subcommittee working on the three bills will meet again Aug. 20.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
bleubsdorf@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

It's never too early to protect NH and it's residents but it can be too late. Leave out any ambiguous language that is just a loophole to be exploited and mandate burial on state designated corridors for lines over a certain size. That will fit into any future energy plan. Do it now before it's too late.

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