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Northern Pass officials say towers can be 85 feet

Last modified: 9/19/2012 12:00:00 AM
Northern Pass officials have found a way to shorten the 79 transmission towers planned through the White Mountain National Forest in an effort to make the proposed hydropower project more palatable.

Instead of standing 100 to 135 feet tall, as Northern Pass officials proposed last summer, the structures would be about 85 feet tall, said project spokesman Martin Murray yesterday. But their location hasn't changed.

The towers would still be built in an existing 10-mile corridor through the forest that already carries power lines owned by Public Service of New Hampshire. The existing power lines, which stand about 52 feet tall, are typically not visible over the tree line.

The new towers, even shortened, could be visible depending on the vantage point, Murray said.

"The line may be just above tree height in some areas - the future visual impact assessment will help answer that," Murray said. "But, it certainly won't be nearly as visible as the 400-foot-high wind turbines that are being sited on top of two mountain ridges in the area."

Murray was referring to the Groton Wind Project.

The new design was given to Tom Wagner, forest manager of the White Mountain National Forest, late yesterday afternoon. Wagner has a big say in whether Northern Pass goes forward. As part of the project's permitting process, Wagner must decide whether the proposed project is in the public interest.

Wagner confirmed yesterday that he'd seen a drawing of the newly proposed towers, but said he had too little information to say how shorter towers would affect his decision.

Wagner said he isn't making any decisions until after federal officials perform an impact study on the proposed project. And that study can't begin until Northern Pass officials determine the route of their proposed project. Murray said that route will be unveiled before the end of the year.

The proposed Northern Pass, a private project developed by Northeast Utilities, NSTAR and PSNH, would bring hydropower from Canada through New Hampshire and into the New England energy grid. The power would be converted from DC to AC in Franklin.

Most of the high-voltage hydropower line would run along the 140 miles of existing rights of way PSNH already owns from Gorham to Deerfield. The course of the top 40 miles, from Groveton to the Canadian border, are still being determined.

Northern Pass officials have been buying land for that northern part of the route, but conservation groups are fighting them. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests recently announced plans to buy several parcels to "thwart" Northern Pass and is collecting donations for its effort.

Murray said yesterday that the Northern Pass engineers were able to shorten the proposed transmission towers by redesigning the arms that will hold the power line. The lines will run side by side, meaning the towers will have to be wider than the initial design.

To make the new plan work through the White Mountain National Forest, Northern Pass would move the existing power line from the center of the corridor to the edge. But the existing power lines will have to be taller, from about 52 feet to 85 feet, to accommodate the additional tower.

Murray said yesterday the actual right of way, which is 150 feet, will not be widened to accommodate the change. And, he said, Northern Pass officials believe they can replicate this plan along most of the route.

"There have been a lot of concerns that the right of way will be widened," Murray said. "I hope this puts people's minds to rest in terms of that question."

Murray said the redesign will be added to the Northern Pass website, northernpass.us, later today. The "community" pages that show how the project will appear in each of the cities and towns it crosses will also be updated with new tower heights, he said.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)


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