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Northern Pass headed back for environmental review

Last modified: 9/25/2015 10:19:39 AM
The U.S. Department of Energy will reopen its environmental review of the controversial Northern Pass transmission line in order to study the project’s new route that would bury an additional 52 miles of the line beneath the White Mountain National Forest.

The federal agency announced Thursday it will postpone three public hearings set for early October on the draft environmental impact statement – which studies a previous Northern Pass proposal and several alternatives – until the new analysis is complete. The department will also extend the 90-day public comment period until the end of the year.

The department’s environmental review is one component of a federal permit Northern Pass needs because the project crosses an international border. The transmission line also needs state sign-off, and officials say they will begin that process this fall.

The Northern Pass transmission line, a partnership between Eversource Energy and HydroQuebec, would run 192 miles from Pittsburg to Deerfield and carry 1,000 megawatts of electricity to the region.

The DOE announcement marks another delay for the $1.4 billion energy project that was initially announced in 2010. But the company said in a statement posted to its blog Thursday that the project will continue as planned.

“We do not anticipate the change in the DOE calendar to impact the Northern Pass project’s overall schedule,” Northern Pass said.

The DOE released the long-awaited, thousand-page draft environmental review of Northern Pass in July. And a month later, Northern Pass announced a revised project, known as the Forward New Hampshire Plan, that increases the amount of line burial from 8 to 60 miles, scales back the project’s size and changes other aspects of the line.

The changes prompted the state’s congressional delegation and several environmental groups to write to the DOE, urging the agency to further study the new proposal they said had been altered enough to warrant additional review.

The delegation praised the DOE decision Thursday.

“We appreciate DOE’s decision to meet the request of concerned Granite Staters who want more information and more time to assess the impact of the new Northern Pass route,” said U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Frank Guinta in a joint statement. “We continue to believe that DOE must provide ample time for public review following the release of the supplemental to the draft Environmental Impact Statement.”

The environmental impact statement analyzes a mix of 11 routes including several above ground and buried options.

The new federal review will compare the Forward New Hampshire Plan with those other alternatives and supplement the original draft, the DOE said in a notice. The draft environmental impact statement doesn’t pick one route over another, but it lays out the benefits and drawbacks of each option.

While supporters say the project is necessary to help diversify the region’s power supply, opponents argue the project’s tall utility towers will mar the state’s natural landscape and hurt property values. Many critics have called for further burial, and public opinion of the project remains divided.

Under the current proposal, 8 miles of the transmission line would run through East Concord, in between two existing power lines in an Eversource right-of-way. The project would increase utility pole heights along the project path from the current range of 43 to 97 feet, to between 85 and 120 feet. A committee of city councilors is in the process of evaluating the project’s impact on Concord and is set to meet again Monday.



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


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