My Turn: Northern Pass divides state into winners, losers

Last modified: 9/15/2015 9:53:35 AM
For nearly five years, Northern Pass promoters have vigorously denied the possibility of burying HVDC lines here in New Hampshire. These denials have occurred in news reports, on television, in private discussions with business leaders and newspaper editorial boards, in direct mailings to Eversource customers, and most distressingly, in front of legislative committees engaged in the people’s work.

Suddenly, on Aug. 18, a miraculous turnaround took place.

News of the modern technology that opponents have been writing and testifying about for the past five years seems to have finally arrived in Eversource’s office in Manchester.

In a stunning reversal, Northern Pass could now bury an additional 52 miles of line through the rockiest terrain in the state at no additional cost. What happened?

Opponents have argued for years that modern technology allows for practical, cost-effective and relatively easy burial of high voltage lines:

∎ Use modern cable designed expressly for burial.

∎ Bury the cable directly in already softened areas such as road sides and rail beds.

∎ Use technology that is proven and is already in use around the globe.

We made this argument in newspaper opinion pieces, in letters to the editor, in federal hearings and frequently in testimony before legislative committees, especially the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee.

Northern Pass promoters vehemently denied this argument. They claimed that New Hampshire has far too much granite to allow for burial, the cost would be prohibitively expensive and the technology is unproven.

Some even went so far as to assert that if New Hampshire created an underground utility corridor, there would never be another energy project built here in the state. Sadly, legislators, business leaders and some of the public bought this story.

Now comes the Miracle in Manchester. Lo and behold! The new Northern Pass route buries 52 additional miles through the White Mountains using new technology, along road sides and for a reasonable cost. The very same downstate politicians, business leaders and unions who parroted the denial argument were quick to leap onto the bandwagon and proclaim support for this new “balanced” approach.

However, the new route, Northern Pass 3.0, fails miserably in one very important aspect. It divides New Hampshire into winners and losers. Divides us into “tower towns” and “burial towns.” Offers cash to tower towns in an attempt to soothe the dual injury of a disfigured landscape and loser status. Offers “job creation” grants to paper over the fact that Coos County is the biggest loser of all.

The story is not over. Even a casual observer might ask, “Why not just bury the whole thing?” Clearly, it can be done here in a practical, affordable way that continues to make a very handsome profit for project sponsors and shareholders. Opponents have already sketched out how a fully buried Northern Pass is affordable and stand ready to share their findings.

In view of the fact that their earlier arguments have collapsed entirely, one wonders what possible reason Eversource could cite that makes it acceptable to damage some towns and not others. Opponents will continue to demand a fair, equitable plan.

It is simply not the New Hampshire way to favor some and leave others behind.

Business leaders who believe they will benefit from the power Northern Pass would bring to New England would do well to get behind the full burial that would both deliver the power and treat all of New Hampshire fairly. Politicians with a genuine interest in serving the public should not now turn their heads away from the losers on the new route, but urge Eversource to do the right thing by all of our citizens.

There’s tremendous opportunity here for New Hampshire to work out a solution after five long years of wrangling. We should – there’s a lot hanging in the balance.

(Nancy Martland lives in Sugar Hill.)

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