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Editorial: It’s time to act on state energy corridor

Last modified: 4/1/2015 12:47:34 AM
The fate of the Northern Pass project, a transmission line to bring hydroelectric power south from Quebec, remains undecided. At least three natural gas pipeline expansions involving New Hampshire, all controversial, have been proposed and utility expansions are under way in surrounding states. And through it all, New Hampshire’s Legislature continues to study the years-old proposal to create a state energy corridor. It’s time for lawmakers to act, both to guide growth and create a badly needed new source of tax revenue.

The plan called for in House Bill 626, a bipartisan effort supported by Republican Sens. Jeb Bradley and Jeanie Forrester and Democratic Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, as well as Concord Democratic Rep. Howard Moffett, calls for the authorization of state energy corridors and a committee to designate them.

The corridors, as described so far, would utilize the Interstate 89 and 93 rights-of-way, the Route 101 corridor, some or all of the 516 miles of state-owned railroad corridors and potentially other divided highways and state roads. An earlier committee has already done much of the preliminary work but more needs to be done. The creation of the corridors is in the state’s long-term interest and, in this case, speed counts. Maine, for example, has been working for years on a similar plan, and in Vermont, a major electric transmission corridor for hydropower is slated to run the length of the state with some of it under Lake Champlain.

Eventually, and the sooner the better, indigenous sources of alternative energy will reduce the need to rely on natural gas from states to the south and electricity from our neighbors to the north, but meeting the region’s electricity needs at a price that doesn’t cripple the economy will require traditional energy sources for years to come. Meanwhile, the race is on and the pace will speed up if, as some believe, states with energy corridors create cash cows.

Lawmakers should allot the corridor committee the resources it needs to hire experts and consultants who can speed the process along. That means environmental reviews, engineering studies, economic analyses and legal help.

Once announced, the corridors cannot be rerouted, so this is one decision that has to be right the first time.

Using existing rights of way minimizes the environmental damage, loss of land for other uses, and visual impact of new energy transmission and distribution capacity. Once created, those who use the corridors, and ultimately their customers, could be charged a lease fee that’s based, at least in part, on the energy transmitted – so much per million cubic feet of natural gas, for example, or megawatt of electricity.

Because the interstates and Route 101 were built largely with federal money, rules require that any state revenue garnered by leasing use of their rights of way be spent on improving and maintaining those thoroughfares. Fair enough. Given the sorry state of New Hampshire’s roads and bridges, any extra revenue will help.

The state doesn’t own the land under most state roads. It has an easement to use the property, so realizing revenue would require cutting deals. The state does own the land under some divided highways, which might appropriately be included in a corridor. All corridors, when possible, should connect with adjoining states and Canada.

It would be interesting to see an estimate of how much revenue energy corridors, which could also be used for fiber optic cables and other uses, could produce for the state. The revenue, since New Hampshire geographically is positioned to be a north-south conduit, could be considerable. And best of all, in true New Hampshire fashion, most of that revenue would come not from the state’s residents but flatlanders to the south.


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