On Northern Pass, Concord City Council makes ‘a clear statement’ to bury the lines

Last modified: 10/14/2015 12:09:01 AM
The Concord City Council has taken a stance on Northern Pass: Bury it.

A council subcommittee has met six times since March to study the hydropower project, and on Tuesday, the group delivered an interim report to the council as a whole. In keeping with input from residents, the council will now recommend Northern Pass take its proposed line underground along the entire 8-mile route in Concord.

Carlos Baia, deputy city manager for development, said the subcommittee and the council expects Northern Pass officials to “take that recommendation to heart.”

“There’s a clear statement that’s made by the council,” Baia said.

A partnership between Eversource Energy and Hydro-Quebec, Northern Pass would travel through the northern and eastern parts of Concord. The latest proposal would bury 60 miles of the 192-mile route, which buries the line underneath the White Mountain National Forest but not the capital city.

Northern Pass still needs state and federal approval; Concord and other individual communities do not have the power to decide whether Northern Pass moves forward. The comment period for the federal review has been extended to the end of this year, as the U.S. Department of Energy reopens its environmental review of the latest proposed route from Eversource.

The city council itself had not yet taken a firm position on the project until Tuesday’s meeting. The group unanimously accepted the report’s recommendations as part of the consent agenda; there was no discussion or public comment.

But the subcommittee heard more than 50 individual instances of public testimony from representatives of Eversource Energy, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the Appalachian Mountain Club and Concord residents. The group also received more than 20 emails from local people and a petition with at least 664 signatures – all opposing the project or requesting its burial through Concord.

The city is already an intervenor in the federal permitting process. In keeping with the report’s recommendations, the city will also file for intervenor status with the state Site Evaluation Committee.

“The committee felt that it was important to have as much input as possible into any of the regulatory processes,” Baia said. “They were aware the city doesn’t have any direct regulatory (control). . . . Being an intervenor, they would state it was a method to provide as much influence as we can in the process within the limitations of what we can do.”

The report also recommends the city “follow the evolution of the Forward NH Fund.” Over the next 20 years, Northern Pass has promised to spend $200 million in local communities. Details on who will administer that money and how are still undetermined.

While the council had not yet weighed in, City Manager Tom Aspell penned a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy in 2013 to express concern on behalf of the conservation commission and the planning board about Northern Pass in Concord.

Building Northern Pass is projected to cost $1.4 billion, and the lines would carry 1,000 megawatts of electricity into the New England grid. The existing power lines in Concord are between 43 and 97 feet tall in the right-of-way that would also host Northern Pass. Eversource Energy has 230 poles there currently, and Northern Pass would add 77 more. Should the hydropower project be approved, most of the new lines would be between 85 and 100 feet tall. In some cases, the poles in Concord could be as tall as 125 feet.

Officials from Eversource Energy attended every subcommittee meeting. They have pointed to cost as prohibitive to burying the lines; going underground would likely cost an additional $5 million to $10 million per mile. Eversource Energy also has rights to build utility poles above ground in many of its Concord easements – but not underground.

The utility made the same arguments to the Concord Planning Board in December, when Eversource Energy (then known as Public Service of New Hampshire) wanted to re-establish an overhead line unrelated to Northern Pass. Residents wanted the line buried, but the board eventually approved the above-ground lines.

“The Northern Pass project has the potential to provide substantial benefit to New Hampshire, but only if it is affordable to complete the project,” Eversource spokesman Martin Murray wrote in an email last week. “We’ve worked hard with communities to determine what affordable steps we can take to reduce potential impact. The addition of streamlined monopoles in the existing rights of way in Concord is a good example of that.”

Baia said the Northern Pass subcommittee would reconvene to review any new information from Eversource Energy and Hydro-Quebec.

“They just felt that Northern Pass had not yet fully vetted the idea of burying the lines in Concord,” Baia said of the subcommittee. “They are basically saying, ‘This is something we want you to seriously consider, and we want you to come back with some details.’ ”

All information about the subcommittee – contact information for member councilors, agendas, minutes and documents regarding the Northern Pass route in Concord – can be found at concordnh.gov.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story has been updated to correct the amount of money in the Forward NH Fund. That amount is $200 million, to be distributed over 20 years.

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