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Photographer’s documentary on Northern Pass set to debut at Red River

Last modified: 3/1/2015 12:15:01 AM
Jerry Monkman lives on the Seacoast, far from the stretch of New Hampshire where Northern Pass plans to plant a new electric transmission line.

But the nature photographer says everyone in New England will be visually affected by the energy project. This spring, Monkman is releasing a documentary that showcases the landscapes, the people and the issues impacted by the 187-mile transmission line.

“Our connection to the land is so strong that we need to think long and hard about this,” Monkman said.

His film, The Power of Place, will premiere at Red River Theatres on March 11. Monkman hopes the 51-minute documentary will be one piece of the puzzle that helps people make up their minds about Northern Pass.

Monkman was first introduced to the project several years ago, when the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (which opposes the project) asked him to produce a series of videos interviewing people along the proposed transmission line route. “I was really struck by the personalities I met,” he said. And he was inspired to pursue his own film that would show the effect of the line on someone like him, who doesn’t live along its path.

Northern Pass aims to send 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid. The project – a collaboration between HydroQuebec and Eversource Energy, formerly Public Service of New Hampshire – plans to route an electric transmission line across the Canadian border at Pittsburg, south to Deerfield. The majority of the project is made up of overhead transmission lines, but 8 miles would be buried in Northern New Hampshire. It is set to pass through Concord, along an existing power line right-of-way that runs parallel to I-93, across Loudon Road and into Pembroke.

The controversial project has sparked a years-long debate between those who say the transmission line and utility poles will mar the state’s natural landscape and others who say the region needs the energy Northern Pass will provide.

Monkman’s film explores some of those arguments through interviews with more than a dozen people, which are tied together by narration, graphics and the landscape photography for which Monkman is known.

The takeaway, Monkman said, is that while there may be benefits of getting hydropower to New England, enough questions remain about the economics and environmental effects. That makes him doubtful the trade off is worth it, he said.

The film will be released right before the project is set to again take a state spotlight.

Northern Pass officials expect the U.S. Department of Energy to release a draft Environmental Impact Statement, a required component of the federal permitting process, this spring. Officials plan to announce a route solution by mid-2015, before beginning the state permitting process. It may well include further burial of the line, something project officials are “strongly considering,” Eversource Energy President of New Hampshire Operations William Quinlan told the Monitor last fall.

The timing of the release was unintentional, Monkman said. He had planned to finish the project more than a year ago, but shortly after concluding production he was diagnosed with cancer. He took the year off to fight the disease and now he is cancer-free, able to again work on the documentary full-time. “The good news is the timing of this is actually going to be really, really good,” he said.

Northern Pass did not participate in the project, Monkman said. “They were very polite about it.” In lieu of the company’s voice, he pulled quotes project officials had previously given in newspaper or radio interviews.

“Mr. Monkman is a talented photographer but, since we haven’t seen the film yet, it would be premature for us to comment on it specifically,” said Eversource Energy spokeswoman Lauren Collins in a statement. “However, we’d remind viewers that professional visual impact assessments, conducted by experienced landscape architects, are required as a part of the public permitting processes.”

Monkman funded the documentary project through a Kickstarter online campaign he launched two years ago. It raised roughly $36,000 from donors across the world. One photographer from Paris, who heard a podcast of Monkman talking about the documentary, gave $1,000 to his film project.

The most interesting thing Monkman learned while making the documentary is that the issue doesn’t break along party lines. He met Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, people all across the political spectrum, who voiced both support for and opposition to the energy project.

“It pushes and pulls in different directions,” he said. “It becomes more of a personal decision than an ideological one.”

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


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