My Turn: Technology exists to bury Northern Pass line
The Sunday Monitor’s Sept. 8 editorial, “Visual impact of towers still unclear,” displayed a refreshing bit of skepticism regarding the Northern Pass project and its public face. The Monitor rightly noted the failure of this project to level with the public. Obfuscation is a mild term for the way Northern Pass operates. Why are officials not more forthcoming on the details of their project? Because they don’t want the public or the press to know what they are really doing. This is, I believe, standard practice when siting unpopular facilities. There are public relations consultants who specialize in lulling the public into a false sense of the rightness of a bad project. The Monitor is right to advise readers in Concord to demand answers. In my experience over the past three years, they will not get them, but it is always worth a try and I applaud the paper for that.
One claim in the editorial left me breathless, however.
I was astonished to read that the Monitor has apparently not heard of modern underground long-line transmission technology. Since many of us have been writing about it for some time, including in the pages of this newspaper, this is very disappointing.
HVDC Light, manufactured by ABB, and HVDC Plus, manufactured by Siemens, are the trending technology for long-line transmission because they are reasonably priced, secure and invisible. This technology is marketed and installed by Hydro Quebec. Everyone in the energy industry is well aware of it. Failure to acknowledge this eminently viable method is simply unacceptable in a responsible publication like the Monitor.
A middle-schooler could Google HVDC light and come up with the facts. Such a search would reveal the MurrayLink, for example, a long-line underground transmission project in Australia that was installed by Hydro-Quebec TransEnergie and is presently in operation.
Closer to home, a Google search would reveal the Champlain Hudson Power Express project, which will use HVDC Light to move hydropower from Quebec beneath Lake Champlain, and then 133 miles underground to New York along roads and rail beds. The cost for the underground section of this line is priced at less than $6 million per mile. The cost for Northern Pass’s obsolete towers line is priced at less than $5 million per mile. Yes, HVDC Light underground is a bit more costly to install because the specialized cable costs more than old-fashioned cable. It is not nearly 4 to 14 times the cost. And there are important savings, such as storm damage repair which can run into the multi-millions. Champlain Hudson is developed by Blackstone Group. Do you really believe that this highly respected investment group would sign on for an exorbitantly priced method of moving power?
Interestingly, Champlain Hudson replaces New York Regional Interconnect, an overhead project through the Catskills, similar to Northern Pass, that was fought tooth and nail and ultimately withdrawn. Champlain Hudson experienced little opposition from the public. Why? It is invisible! Bingo. Renewable power on its way to New York.
Illustrating the trend away from overhead lines, yet another underground project, Tres Amigas, was announced recently in New Mexico. The developers mention the obvious benefits, including security and the fact that the public does not object to invisible underground lines. This project proposes a public-private partnership. Why wouldn’t this work in New Hampshire?
And then there is the fact that if the line is installed along state-owned roadways, New Hampshire can pick up significant revenue just as our neighbors in Maine are doing.
We all know why Northern Pass wants you to believe the high-cost scenario. This Connecticut-based conglomerate wants to “monetize” the easement that it controls and it is perfectly willing to trash a swath of New Hampshire to do that; if the truth about buried lines comes out, its argument collapses. Renewable power is a worthy goal. Trashing New Hampshire unnecessarily for private gain most assuredly is not.
I am surprised that the Monitor takes as a given claims that underground lines are impossible when the known facts are so clearly contrary. How far can the emperor walk down the street before you notice that he is wearing no clothes?
Does the Monitor really want to be remembered as the paper that pushed this obsolete overhead line when a perfectly viable, invisible alternative was present? Is that the legacy the paper has in mind for our kids? I think they deserve better.
(Nancy Martland is coordinator of the Sugar Hill Tower Opponents.)