Committee pushes for Northern Pass burial in Concord

Last modified: 10/10/2015 11:27:56 PM
A Concord City Council subcommittee has recommended the Northern Pass project be buried through its entire 8-mile path through Concord.

That subcommittee has met six times since March, and it will deliver a report to the rest of the city council Tuesday. The document reflects the sentiment voiced by residents at those meetings – overwhelming opposition to aerial Northern Pass lines.

“The Committee acknowledges, as did many of the residents that participated in this process, that it find no issue with the merits of the Northern Pass project in light of the need for greater energy diversity in the region,” the report reads. “However, in its opinion, burial of the Northern Pass project in Concord has not yet been thoroughly explored by Northern Pass.”

The report noted more than 50 individual instances of public testimony during the subcommittee’s meetings from representatives of Eversource Energy, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, the Appalachian Mountain Club and Concord residents.

The group received more than 20 emails and a petition with at least 664 signatures – all opposing the project or requesting its burial through Concord.

After a recent meeting of the subcommittee, Ward 8 Councilor Gail Matson said the input from residents was clear.

“They asked for it to be buried,” Matson told the Monitor . “It was unanimous. As a council, I think we need to put a good amount of weight in that.”

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 takes the line underneath the White Mountain National Forest but not the capital city.

Construction is projected to cost $1.4 billion, and the lines would carry 1,000 megawatts of electricity into the New England grid.

Currently, the majority of the power lines in Concord on that right-of-way are between 43 and 97 feet tall. Eversource Energy has 230 existing poles in the right-of-way; Northern Pass would add 77. Should the hydropower project be approved, most of the new lines would stand between 85 and 100 feet tall. In some cases in Concord, the poles could be as tall as 125 feet.

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 has not taken a firm position on the project. Earlier this year, it tasked a subcommittee with determining the potential impact in Concord. But in June 2013, City Manager Tom Aspell penned a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy to express concern on behalf of the conservation commission and the planning board about Northern Pass in Concord.

Among its points, that 2013 letter stated the city “would like the high-voltage electrical transmission lines to be placed underground, especially when they are close to residential areas.”

In September 2013, the city submitted a motion to become an intervenor in the federal permitting process. As part of its report, the subcommittee has recommended Concord file for intervenor status with the state Site Evaluation Committee as well. Northern Pass will submit its application soon to that committee, which permits major energy projects like this one.

“You generally get a seat at the table,” Aspell said of intervenor status. “For me, I’m sitting right there if things don’t go my way.”

And, the report states, the city should continue to follow the evolution of the Forward NH Fund, a recently announced plan for community betterment. Over 20 years, Northern Pass has promised to give $200 million to local communities. But details on who will administer that money – and how – are still being worked out.

Aspell said he hasn’t seen anything on that fund in writing.

“If you really look at it, it seems to me to be money they want to give to people to garner support for the project. . . . It’s a PR piece,” Aspell said.

Officials from Eversource Energy attended every meeting of the subcommittee to answer questions and offer their own points. They estimated the transmission project would generate more than $500,000 in property tax revenue for Concord in the first year. They have also said burying the line would likely cost $5 million to $10 million per mile more than aerial lines, and Eversource Energy does not have underground rights to many of the easements along the right-of-way.

The Concord Planning Board allowed Eversource Energy – then known as Public Service of New Hampshire – to re-establish an overhead line unrelated to Northern Pass in December. Residents asked for that line to be buried, but doing so was ruled a hardship for the same reasons Eversource Energy cites now on Northern Pass.

“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. “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.”

Due to the Columbus Day holiday on Monday, the council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers. The agenda, which includes the full report and related Northern Pass documents, is available online at All information about the subcommittee can also be found on the city’s website.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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