Northern Pass chief Gary Long says support for project increasing
Public Services of New Hampshire President Gary Long announces a new route through the north country for the Northern Pass project; Thursday, June 27, 2013. The proposed route for transmission lines bringing hydroelectric power from Quebec to New England will travel through a route to the east of the one originally planned and will have nearly eight miles of buried lines.
ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff
Gary Long, who has helped lead Northern Pass as president of Public Service of New Hampshire, acknowledged yesterday that his team has been losing the public relations battle to the project’s opponents. But Long believes that will change now that he can talk publicly about the project’s new proposed route.
“At the beginning of the process, you don’t have all the information and people will immediately have an emotional reaction, and that is what you are seeing happening,” Long said. He continued, “When you don’t have facts, there’s a void and people make up a lot of stuff, and we are dealing with a lot of made-up stuff.”
For example, Long said, opponents have said the project will put people out of their homes. Long said that is not true, save for a mobile home that is illegally placed in a transmission right of way. Martin Murray, a Northern Pass spokesman, said project officials have helped that homeowner get to a safer and more suitable location.
Long met with the Monitor’s editorial board yesterday for a wide-ranging interview that touched on the proposed Northern Pass hydropower line from Canada, PSNH’s future, Long’s frustration with changing state regulations and renewable energy.
To watch the interview, visit youtube.com/concordmonitoronline.
Late last month, Long unveiled the latest route of the proposed Northern Pass line from Canada, through New Hampshire and into the New England power grid. The new map revealed that the project won’t need much of the North Country land it spent $40 million buying for the proposed line.
Long said yesterday that the stockholders of Northeast Utilities, which is partnering with PSNH and Hydro-Quebec on the project, will likely pay for that unused land. Hydro-Quebec has agreed to pay for the 187-mile transmission line if it is approved by federal and state officials.
“If the land is not used, I think the Canadians will say, ‘I don’t want to pay for that,’ ” Long said.
Long said project engineers have been able to lower the height of proposed towers through the North Country from 135 feet to between 80 feet and 90 feet. He claimed that opponents continue to overstate the height of those towers.
Yet, despite critics, Long said he believes Northern Pass is gaining support in the state, even in the North Country. He and Murray cited both public and internal polls. Long said even elected officials who have cited concerns about community opposition of the project have told him they support Northern Pass for its clean energy.
“The aesthetics is what you hear about the most,” Long said. “But when you are looking at energy policy or public policy, you can’t satisfy everyone 100 percent. You can’t have power without having infrastructure. You can’t have travel without having roads. You can’t have communication without having cell towers.
“So, you can’t have power without having transmission lines,” Long said. “I think the benefits (of Northern Pass) are just enormous. And if you want to find that one reason to say no, people will find that one reason to say no. But if you look at it, we all depend on electricity and we all want clean electricity and we all want low-cost electricity and . . . reliable electricity. There is no better project anywhere in New England.”
With more than 50 percent of its commercial and residential energy sales to be supplied by PSNH competitors for cheaper prices by year’s end, some state officials have renewed calls for PSNH to sell off generation plants. Long reiterated his opposition to that yesterday.
He said the state has created an “uneven playing field” by requiring PSNH to handle billing and customer service for its competitors at “give-away” prices.
Under rules set by the Public Utilities Commission, PSNH can charge competitors 50 cents for each bill it handles, nearly the cost of a stamp and short of what the actual accounting costs, Murray said.
Long said the 50-cent limit essentially means PSNH is subsidizing its competition. He said if PSNH could charge just 1 cent per kilowatt-hour for billing, competitors would no longer be able to undercut PSNH’s electricity rates. Doing so would help stop PSNH’s customer migration, he said.
Long repeatedly expressed frustration yesterday with what he sees as ever-changing state regulations governing energy projects. “We say New Hampshire is a business-friendly state,” Long said. “New Hampshire is not a business-friendly state.”
Long pointed to efforts by the Legislature this year to adopt moratoriums on renewable energy projects, including Northern Pass, and to rewrite the state rules used to approve such projects. Those bills resulted in summer study commissions.
“If the Legislature is changing the rules midcourse . . . because they are against a project, because they are philosophically opposed to it . . . that is not good policy,” Long said.
He said he supports giving the state Site Evaluation Committee, which decides which projects are approved, more resources to do its work. But he opposes giving any one group or agency the power to veto a project.
He said the state has already adopted a long-term energy plan by participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a commitment to gradually increase the amount of renewable energy used in the state to about 25 percent by 2025. Putting obstacles in front of projects like Northern Pass and wind power works against that already-adopted energy goal, Long said.
Long announced last month that he is retiring as president of PSNH by Aug. 1 to focus on Northern Pass and other renewable energy efforts. He was visibly excited about that future yesterday.
“Energy policy in general and renewable energy policy is a passion of mine,” he said.
He touted Northern Pass yesterday as the region’s best chance to put a dent in its heavy reliance on natural gas, which Long said produces 88 percent of the region’s carbon emissions.
“I do support solar and wind, but solar and wind are not reliable,” Long said. “It only helps on the carbon (emissions reduction) front, not on the reliability front.”
Northern Pass, Long said, emits fewer carbon emissions and is more reliable than wind or solar. Long said the region would need 20 times the number of wind farms in New England now to produce the 1,200 megawatts of energy that Northern Pass will produce.
“There is nothing (else) renewable that comes anywhere near this,” Long said.
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323,
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)