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Northern Pass proposes 52 more miles of buried lines for project



Last modified: Thursday, August 20, 2015
Northern Pass officials unveiled a new project route Tuesday that buries an additional 52 miles of the transmission line under state roadways from Bethlehem to Bridgewater, which takes the line beneath the White Mountain National Forest.

The company also announced a multimillion-dollar fund to invest in communities that host the project and a plan to direct a portion of the line’s hydropower to New Hampshire consumers.

But in order to bury more of the 192-mile line that would run from Pittsburg to Deerfield, the company had to scale back the size of the project from 1,200 megawatts to 1,000 – still enough to power 1 million homes.

Even though Northern Pass officials had previously said that burying more of the electric transmission line would send costs skyrocketing, a top Eversource Energy executive said Tuesday the project is still estimated to cost $1.4 billion.

“We’re in the middle of re-evaluating the project cost estimate; we do think there will be some increased cost,” said Bill Quinlan, president of Eversource’s New Hampshire Electric Operations. “It’s certainly a smaller project, but it’s fair to say it’s going to be in the $1.4 billion range.”

The revised route doesn’t change the line’s path through the North Country. Nor does it alter the southern segment, an overhead line that runs through Franklin and Concord before ending in Deerfield.

The Northern Pass project – a partnership between Eversource Energy and HydroQuebec – would funnel Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid.

The project is necessary, Quinlan said Tuesday, to help lower the region’s high electricity prices and diversify its energy mix, which is increasingly reliant on natural gas.

But since its inception in 2010, the controversial energy project has had trouble gaining widespread public support over concerns that the tall utility towers will mar the state’s natural landscape and hurt property values.

Tuesday marked the second time Northern Pass has revised its project in an effort to appease critics. The first time, in 2013, the company committed to bury 8 miles of line through the North Country.

While several state lawmakers came out in favor of the new plan Tuesday, some opponents said the new route is a start, but shows Northern Pass can afford to bury more.

“We should give them credit for agreeing to bury what amounts to another 28 percent of the line,” said Jack Savage, of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. “But, still two-thirds of the line, more than 125 miles, they are proposing to build overhead.”

Some had complained the project wouldn’t directly benefit New Hampshire, and instead feed power-hungry states to its south.

Eversource announced Tuesday it has a contract with HydroQuebec to secure 10 percent of the line’s electric power over a 20-year period for use by its New Hampshire customers. Eversource officials would not say how much they agreed to pay for the hydropower under the arrangement, known as a power purchase agreement.

“It is advantageously priced,” Quinlan said. “We here in New Hampshire will receive the lowest price out of any customer that is receiving power over that line.”

New route

Northern Pass would now be buried for 60 miles through New Hampshire, leaving the remaining 132 miles overhead.

The new 52-mile underground portion would run beneath the shoulder of several state roads, which include Routes 18, 116 and 112, and U.S. Route 3 through Sugar Hill, Easton, and Franconia, among others.

The new plan avoids sending an overhead line through the White Mountain National Forest and several surrounding communities, as called for in the previous proposal. Putting the line underground in that section will help preserve the natural scenery, Quinlan said, that includes Franconia Notch and the Appalachian Mountain Trail.

The project route would not change through Concord, where it is set to run 8 miles through 108 parcels along an existing Eversource right of way. As planned, the Northern Pass project would increase the existing utility pole heights from the current range of 43 to 97 feet, to between 85 and 120 feet.

Northern Pass officials plan to continue discussions with city officials about the route through Concord, said Eversource spokesman Martin Murray.

Northern Pass also announced Tuesday the creation of a $200 million community betterment fund it will use to pay for investments in tourism, economic development and clean energy in communities set to host the electric transmission line. Concord could be one of the beneficiaries of the fund, Murray said.

The Northern Pass already planned to bury 8 miles of line through Clarksville. The revised route doesn’t underground any additional sections of the transmission line through the North Country, but it does lower tower heights an average of 5 to 10 feet and converts 140 of the large lattice structures, to single poles, Murray said.

The Northern Pass route still casts aside much of the $40 million in land the company purchased for the project beginning in 2011. Quinlan said the company will work with local communities to make use of the 5,000 acres, perhaps by putting it in conservation easements or opening it to recreational activity. “Nothing is decided yet,” Murray said.

The new project path, and $200 million fund, are part of a package Northern Pass is calling the Forward New Hampshire Plan. The plan is a culmination of more than a year of meetings with hundreds of stakeholders, environmental groups, businesses and labor unions, Quinlan said, but he wouldn’t name specific groups or people.

“We’re very excited about this plan,” Quinlan said at the announcement event at Globe Manufacturing Co. in Pittsfield, a town the Northern Pass project will not pass through. “It’s not to say this plan is perfect, there are certainly adjustments we may need to do as we move through siting.”

Northern Pass still needs both state and federal approval. A draft federal study found that burying the line would increase costs but reduce potential negative impacts on the environment, tourism and local property values.

The company will begin the state permitting process in mid-October, Quinlan said, and plans to have the transmission line operational by 2019.

The company will soon hold public hearings in all five counties that host the project to get input on the revised route. And, Northern Pass is launching an $425,250 ad buy on WMUR that will run through the end of September, according to FEC filings.

It’s not yet clear whether the new project plan will quell critics’ concerns and boost public perception.

Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a statement the new route is an improvement over the previous proposal.

“I am encouraged that Northern Pass officials have listened and are taking meaningful steps forward in attempting to address those concerns,” she said. “That process of listening – and making further improvements – must continue.”



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