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PSNH president looks to future flow of power



Last modified: Monday, December 20, 2010
The Northern Pass - a project between Northeast Utilities and Hydro Quebec that would bring 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectricity 140 miles from Canada to a converter station in Franklin and finally on to Deerfield to be piped into the New England power grid - is making big news in New Hampshire. Residents in the North Country are worried that it may spoil their views, or worse, cut through their backyards, while people in Franklin are giddy at the $5 million increase in tax base the new substation may bring their struggling city. Meanwhile, environmental groups are questioning how green the project is and what it will mean for New Hampshire's energy future.

The Monitor's editorial board sat down with Gary Long, the president and chief operating officer of Public Service of New Hampshire, the local subsidiary of Northeast Utilities, and representatives from Hydro Quebec on Nov. 16. Below, a sampling of questions asked of Long about the project and the future of renewable energy in New Hampshire.

You're doing this at a time when demand is falling rather than rising. Is that unusual? We take the idea of trying to reduce carbon very seriously. The state has a goal of trying to reduce carbon from all sources by 80 percent by 2050. If there wasn't a business opportunity, this wouldn't be happening, but if there wasn't policy that requires a greener, cleaner energy future, we wouldn't be doing this. . . . We're not looking for major new sources to meet the power needs; we're looking for major new sources to meet the "green power" needs.

In the short term, once power starts being transmitted, what will it offset for PSNH and Northeast Utilities? The market has lots of moving parts and is a competitive market. Whenever anything happens in the New England market . . . anytime there's a change, it acts incrementally on the power source natural gas. Since natural gas is 40 percent of New England's supply and growing, whenever there's a need for more generation or less generation, there's typically more natural gas or less natural gas. So if you have more renewables, you're probably going to have less natural gas.

Natural gas being the cleaner fuel, why not offset coal? Because it's based on economics. Right now gas is very low-priced, the price has gone down quite a bit and has disturbed the market because it's made the in-state renewables very, very difficult economically. . . . Renewables are new and more costly than coal or natural gas.

So, is coal even cheaper? Yes.

What are the obstacles in the way of the (Northern Pass project)? Economics of the project are not an obstacle. . . . The biggest obstacle obviously is siting a transmission line . . . and acquiring new rights of way to build it. But it's been done before. If you think about it, every transmission line you see in New Hampshire at one time was new. . . . New rights-of-way are not unique to the industry, but there's "not in my backyard" syndrome with building anything.

Does it require separate negotiations with various property owners all the way? Most of the route is on existing right-of-way. Some of the right-of-way needs to be widened, and from the north part - from Colebrook up - would be new right-of-way. That will require working with landowners to get the rights-of-way access.

So does that mean a property owner can single-handedly derail this whole thing? The policy of the state, region and nation is to have cleaner power. . . . The state will be involved in the decision - after a lot of public input and a lot of public process - the state will be involved in the decision of the exact route. There are alternative routes that can be worked out, and we're in the process now where the data is being gathered and alternatives are being presented. . . . So, can an individual landowner unilaterally have veto power? The answer is no.

You have eminent domain rights? Yes. Ultimately, as with any public project, you do have rights of eminent domain. But the idea is to avoid that. The idea is to work out a route where you can work things out with landowners where needed.

Why did you choose Franklin, and what happens there? Franklin was chosen because it is at the crossroads of some of the transmission lines we have. As you go from north to south, it is a major point for that. And then of course Deerfield because it's a connection for the rest of New England. This is 1,200 megawatts of power, and New Hampshire is generally exporting power from north to south because most of the people live in the southern part of New England, and most of the resources are more north. There's power flowing to the south, and you have to make provisions for the power to get throughout New England. Franklin is also a good partner in that they can benefit from this economically. It's a $250 billion investment that does not require services. It gives them something to work with in the years ahead and to have a stable tax base.

What are you hearing from your initial meetings with people in the North Country? You can build anything and you can find people who don't want change. . . . What people are saying is that they feel much more comfortable when you use an existing right-of-way. We can't do that up north, because there's no right-of-way, and that's where right now the feelings are the strongest. They don't know the exact route, and they are thirsty for very specific information.

They don't know the exact design of the tower. . . . What we've told people is if your main concern is how it looks - which is probably what you'd hear up north - then location is important. We're not going to put it on a ridge line, where a wind turbine would be. . . . If it's sight alone that's a concern, you try to pick a line that will minimize visual impact, and that's what we're trying to do.

(Tara Ballenger can be reached at 369-3306 or tballenger@cmonitor.com.)