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Northern Pass officials willing to bury more transmission lines, but how much more?

Last modified: 11/19/2014 12:12:49 AM
Northern Pass officials are “strongly considering” burying additional portions of their proposed 187-mile electric transmission line that would run through New Hampshire, from Canada to Deerfield.

But just how many more miles is anyone’s guess, since the project’s planners aren’t saying.

“It’s very clear that we’re going to have to make some adjustments to address principal concerns and deliver a project that New Hampshire supports,” PSNH President William Quinlan said recently. “The challenge is finding that balance.”

Since its announcement in 2010, the energy project has run into opposition from homeowners, elected officials and environmental groups that say the tall utility towers and overhead lines will mar the state’s natural landscape.

Now, officials with Northern Pass – a partnership between Public Service of New Hampshire, Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec – are identifying key project stakeholders and working to get them on board with a consensus plan that may include more burial.

The goal is to announce a solution by mid-2015, before the project begins the New Hampshire permitting process.

And to reach any solution, Northern Pass is “strongly considering” further burial of the line, Quinlan said.

“One of the things we’re looking at – from a stakeholder perspective – is what are the other critical areas that we should be exploring the possibility of under-grounding additional portions,” he said. “Beyond those 8 miles, where are the next most sensitive areas, the most impactful areas?”

The project needs both federal and state approval before construction can begin. Northern Pass initiated the federal process in 2010. The Department of Energy is expected to release a draft Environmental Impact Statement – part of the federal permit – in March.

After that, officials hope to announce a consensus proposal and a possible purchase power agreement with Hydro-Quebec to supply PSNH customers with Canadian hydropower.

“I want to make sure that purchase power agreement is as beneficial to New Hampshire customers as it can be,” Quinlan said. “We’re taking our time to make sure it gives us certainty of supply and certainty of cost benefit.”

Then, by mid-2015, Northern Pass plans to start the state permit process with the Site Evaluation Committee. In the meantime, Quinlan said, Northern Pass officials are continuing outreach to stakeholders and municipalities.

The city of Concord has yet to get a call, said City Councilor Rob Werner. City officials last met with Northern Pass officials more than six months ago, he said.

The city council voted this month to form a subcommittee that will examine the potential impact of Northern Pass in Concord, and then make recommendations to the U.S. Department of Energy. As proposed, the line will pass through Concord in existing PSNH rights of way that are parallel to Mountain Road and cross Loudon Road toward the airport.

Representatives of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests met with Northern Pass officials over the summer, said spokesman Jack Savage. But, he said, a consensus was not in sight.

“Based on those meetings, it was clear to us they were not interested in compromise,” he said. The Forest Society maintains it owns the land Northern Pass wants to cross in Clarksville and is prepared to fight the transmission project in court.

The group – along with several others – backs a solution that calls for completely burying the transmission line.

“Jumping to an all underground solution has its challenge,” Quinlan said. “One of the biggest ones is the incremental cost.”

A complete burial of the project along PSNH rights of way, as it’s currently proposed, would turn the $1.4 billion project into a $3 billion to $4 billion endeavor, Quinlan said. Complete burial has environmental impacts, he added, because it means blasting through existing land or mountains.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)


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