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Editorial: Amid climate crisis, we cannot dismiss Northern Pass

In May, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million, the highest level in more than 3 million years. If nothing is done to reduce carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, the globe’s average temperature increase could top 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s the level beyond which many scientists believe glaciers will melt even more rapidly and global crop failures could be widespread. At current emission levels, according to the International Energy Agency, the world is poised to see an average temperature increase of 3.6 to 5.3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

During last week’s heat wave, New England’s power plants, including the ancient coal plant in Bow, had to be run full-blast to keep the region’s air conditioners working. The plants, most of them powered by natural gas, pumped carbon dioxide into the air, feeding global warming. This loop must be broken. That’s the backdrop behind the Monitor’s consideration of Public Service of New Hampshire’s controversial Northern Pass project to bring hydroelectric power south from Quebec.

Energy conservation and the increased use of power from the sun, wind and tides won’t, in the foreseeable future, come remotely close to meeting the energy needs of the region or world. Especially in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, building more nuclear power plants, at least in New England, is politically and economically impossible. But something must be done or, if the worst predictions come true, Portsmouth will be under water.

Large-scale hydroelectric projects like those built by Quebec’s government are not environmentally benign, but on balance their power is cleaner than the electricity produced by burning fossil fuels.

The 1,200 megawatts of energy the Northern Pass line will carry will displace more expensive electricity generated at fossil fuel plants. Most of the fuel displaced will be natural gas, but importing Quebec power will mean that coal- and oil-fired plants like those owned by PSNH will operate even less often than they do now.

Opposition to the new 187-mile DC power line, chiefly by North Country residents and major environmental organizations, forced PSNH to improve its plan by, among other things, altering the route and lowering many towers. The average height, the utility says, will be 85 feet, about the height of a full-grown red oak and 30 or 40 feet shorter than a prime white pine. Some towers will top the trees and, depending on their proximity to the line, some properties will lose value. Within limits, their owners should be compensated. But the doomsday talk of a collapse of the tourist industry and real estate values is just that, doomsday talk. The impact, we believe, will be modest to minimal.

The utility now wants to bury 8 miles of line under roads in several North Country towns, a decision forced on it by successful efforts to block other routes with conservation easements. Burying the entire power line is not feasible economically nor wise environmentally, at least not along the utility’s existing 140-mile right-of-way, which passes through the White Mountains. But PSNH’s transmission corridor is probably its biggest asset, an asset whose value will increase drastically if Hyro Quebec builds the $1.2 billion line along it. The company may need to further monetize the line to survive economically. We recognize that.

Ideally, the state would have created a publicly-owned energy corridor along highways and railroad beds years ago to permit the easy burial of power lines. The impact on the landscape would be minimal; the revenue received would go to taxpayers, not corporate stockholders. The Legislature is exploring the possibility of doing so, and it should act with dispatch. Hydro Quebec appears destined to expand and the need to lower the region’s energy costs, reduce carbon emissions and guard against a spike in the natural gas that now powers the economy is real.

For now, however, the climate clock is ticking, no state energy corridor is in sight, and no one else has a project in the works that could lead to as big a reduction in carbon emissions.

The Northern Pass project could be further improved, perhaps by burying more of it in scenic areas, but should not be rejected out of hand.

Legacy Comments15

Obama’s climate claims dismantled: ‘In 2013, more than 2/3 of U.S. below normal temps — Forest Fires 2nd quietest on record — Tornadoes the quietest on record — Obama has had fewest hurricanes of any president’

One would think Hurricane Sandy would equal more than one hurricane during any given year but that is just me, a country bumpkin. Not sure where you get your"evidence" but it does not stop the scientists and experts from saying that the climate is changing.

So this explains the week long parade of pro-northern pass articles in the paper. I am sorry to see the paper getting sucked into the Public Service COMPANY web - I hope they get their money's worth. THe paid ads are nice to the bottom line I am sure. Then again I hope the paper - as a paying subscriber - will stop turning their reporting into solicitations of support for the project. This type of reporting is more common countries with despots and fascists who coordinate with the corporate interests to bankroll projects that would otherwise be disallowed or determined illegal with a free judiciary and transparent democratic process. I hope the paper will separate their financial situation and their local reporting.

No one has suggested the article's conclusion - that the proposed no. pass project be rejected out of hand. People should first make themselves aware of the facts about this proposal - they will then make an intelligent and informed decision and reject the hogwash claims of environmental or any other benefits except utility profits at our expense. I found the YouTube video of Gary Long sitting with the Monitor amusing - especially the part where Long looks insulted that the guy from the Monitor seemed bored with the oration and was drinking his coffee instead of hanging on every word. I would think the Monitor would be in support of the best interests of the people and state of NH instead of the best interests of a foreign and out of state utility. They may buy advertising but we buy the papers - and rightfully expect and deserve an unbiased source for news and information.

The editors of the Concord Monitor have had a busy week promoting PSNH and Northern Pass. On Monday, the paper ran a one-sided puff piece on Gary Long, with an embedded YouTube interview video no less so we could view Mr. Long in action sitting and talking with the Monitor. On Thursday, they gave approval to the hatchet job Annmarie Timmins filed on the documentary "Northern Tresspass" in which pro-Northern Pass opinion masqueraded as objective news - Ms. Timmins took self-promotional statements from project developers and labeled them as "truth." Today, the piece de resistance, a call to support Northern Pass for our environmental good, conveniently ignores the fact that all the environmental organizations in the region oppose it. The series was nicely paced in its timing but at the expense of the paper's credibility and reputation as a professional journalism enterprise. If Monitor editors are truly worried about the environment, this editorial would be first and foremost about shutting down PSNH's coal-burning plants, not about propping them up with Northern Pass's brown hydro from Canada that now is begging the U.S. for its own susidies. Or, the editors would be working hard to promote line burial on state corridors in their opinion pieces if their focus was truly on the environment. Instead, they worry about PSNH's survival if they can't monetize the line (i.e., use their own easement) and mention state corridors as an afterthought that they say may be too late now. Propping up PSNH as it currently exists seems to be at the top of the Monitor's agenda. The Monitor started with it on Monday and loops back to it today. So be it. At least when this agenda is presented on the editorial page, it's clearly identified as opinion. But when the Monitor presents this same one-sided opinion as news, as they did this week, their credibility tanks. (Another problem with the Monitor: it has the most confusing, complicated log-in and comment system of any online NH newspaper. Readers with subscriptions get locked out. Requests for help and complaints have been made for months, and nothing happens, also not a professional approach to customer relations.)

The Monitor rightly acknowledges that there are much better ways to transmit power than overhead lines. The technology is there to put the whole thing underground. Underground lines are secure from the weather, from human attempts to disrupt power delivery, and they are INVISIBLE. The suggestion that we should go ahead with NP as planned anyway is nothing less than irresponsible. If by extending the construction out a year or two we can eliminate the most damaging aspects of the project, why should we rush into building an antiquated line? Should NH really be the last one to buy a horse and buggy when we know there are modern vehicles out there? This line of reasoning reflects the utter disdain for real human beings that has been the hallmark of NP from the beginning. To say that the damage will be "minimal" is an insult to the many private property owners affected when the damage is absolutely UNNECESSARY. Does the Monitor actually suggest that whole towns just fall on their sword because PSNH needs to monetize its route right now? How dare you?

The figures opponents of NP cite in Rgument, their well stretched figures of how much forest will need clear cutting for this project, say much about sincerity and honesty. The same people who seem to oppose any trees being cut down stood by and did nothing, said nothing, probably are unaware of, the massive clear cutting done within the former paper company lands of our north woods in the past decade. Huge areas of this land, once managed by those companies, have now been stripped bare and turned to wasteland, for the profiteers who own them. Top soil long gone, washed away, they paid no attention to required buffer zones and took it all down. Destroyed countless back woods brooks and streams. No protesting about that, was there? No concern about the environment or tourism then, was there? Because it wasn't in your town. The NP isn't a project meant to benefit the environment, as one comment seems to suggest; it is a project that brings power to the grid, and they are looking to minimize the damage they do. Stop the predictions of doom, nobody believes this stuff. You people should step aside, stop this incessant "no no no" which hurts us all and only drives the cost of this project up, and be quiet.

I think what you are referring to is the flooding of over 7 million acres of boreal forest in northern Quebec. This is not about a clear cut; it is about removing that many trees from carbon capture and then claiming to be reducing carbon emissions. As NP notes in one of its brochures, the carbon emissiona saved by NP is equivalent to 4 million acres of carbon capturing trees. Huh? So, in order to gain the equivalence of 4 million acres of trees, HQ have already eliminated 7 million (and more will be eliminated for NP with new dams). Does that really make sense to you? If the trees are so valuable in the green equation, why not leave them there and let them do what they do? Incidentally, you're that forestry practices of the past were irresponsible and damaging. We also know that forestry can be practiced sensibly. What's your point? Because those past "profiteers" got away with what they did, the present PSNH "profiteers should get a free pass? Come on.

You have no idea what I am referring to, great. Most people don't. This proves my point. Few environmentalists ever go to that region of New Hampshire. I'll leave it at that.

Playing coy does not cover for making your point? What is it?

I'm sorry, you're right, I didn't really grasp what you were saying. However, I stand by my statement that past destructive forestry practices used by profiteers do not make the present profiteering by PSNH acceptable. And, um, despite your statement that Northern Pass is not about benefit to the environment, it seems to be the underlying premise of this editorial, which we are discussing. For the record, I agree with you that NP is not about environmental benefit. It is about corporate greed, plain and simple. NP and PSNH are shamelessly using environmental benefits to promote their profiteering scheme, and the Monitor's editors are buying that line.

Disclaimer: I AM NOT AN EXPERT IN THE FIELD, but I have done some reading from apparently reliable sources. Compounding the problem of 7 million acres of carbon sink being removed is the fact that when the artificial lake is created everything under it will start decomposing anaerobically, releasing tons of methane. I could be wrong, but I believe methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

Wow! - Talk about playing fast and loose with the facts. At least they weren't called "truth" this time. Wouldn't you think that if this proposed project were beneficial to the environment, it would get the support of at least one environmental group? It has not - not even one - and for good reason. If you can imagine the environmental destruction from rerouting rivers and clear cutting forests the size of whole states - carbon absorbing, oxygen generating forests that used to help regulate the climate now deemed to be in "crisis". The list of serious environmental harm from Canada's greed [not green] energy is long and well documented. Now, to bring this power to market, they want to clear cut 40 more miles of carbon absorbing forest through the most scenic parts of NH and widen as necessary the next 140 miles. We might have that "ideal" state energy corridor if no. pass didn't "lobby" our legislators so intensely against it because they are intent on maximum profit at the expense of NH, the environment, public health, property values, or anything else that stands in their way. No. pass will not stop the oceans from rising and will not even reduce our electric bills. To sacrifice so much of our state for so little real benefit just doesn't make sense. Maybe we'd see that "ideal" state energy corridor if the Monitor promoted it instead of towers.

There are lots of reasons to dislike and oppose NP and Hydo-Quebec's proposals. But by itself, the amount of acreage and forest cover, not to mention carbon sink, lost to overhead transmission towers by the NP proposal is not one of them.

Where has the company ever said that the "average" height of towers would be 85 feet? Some facts would help in this Op Ed. Northern Pass does not give averages because averages consider all numbers in a series. Northern Pass consistently uses "most common" height to discuss towers. (See the website section on towns.) "Most common" measures don't have to consider the outliers in a date series or set. So, if there's a series of towers with the following heights - 85, 85, 85, 100, 100, 120, 140- Northern Pass says the most common tower height is 85 feet. What's the average? Over 100 feet. What does the eye see most? The 140 foot tower. The Monitor should not be so gullible about this or other Northern Pass claims in order to push its energy agenda.

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