My Turn: Let’s close the door on Northern Pass once and for all

  • The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee and other interested parties visit a location at Alton Woods in Concord that would be affected by the Northern Pass project on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

For the Monitor
Published: 6/21/2019 12:10:25 AM
Modified: 6/21/2019 12:10:15 AM

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing in 2010? President Obama was serving his second year in office, and he signed the Affordable Care Act into law that year. Gov. John Lynch was finishing his third term in the State House, while Judd Gregg was on the verge of concluding his 18 years of service in the U.S. Senate. The Celtics lost the NBA finals to the hated Lakers, and Iron Man 2 was released – which has since been followed by 19 other Marvel Universe movies. Something else happened in 2010. Northern Pass was first introduced to New Hampshire.

In 2010, I was working to improve our democracy, and I knew right away that this proposal was trouble for New Hampshire. The original 192-mile proposal, amazingly, sought to build a line of enormous transmission towers right through the heart of Franconia Notch. After a few years of trying to convince everyone that burying the lines would be too difficult and too costly, Northern Pass rightly backed off of its original rigid position and agreed to bury some of its proposed lines. But for thousands upon thousands of New Hampshire residents from all walks of life and political persuasions, hundreds of businesses and 29 out of the 31 municipalities that Northern Pass would travel through – including Concord – the move amounted to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

As someone who has spent countless hours fighting for a clean environment, there are few who support renewable energy more than me. However, Northern Pass was always a bad idea and wrong for our state. It sought (and still seeks) to use our state as an extension cord to transmit energy from Canada to Massachusetts and southern New England, where we would carry the burden of an enormous transmission line marring our landscape forever while our neighbors to the south enjoy the benefits of our burden. The industrial nature of this line would unquestionably harm our tourist economy, property values and small businesses, and do so in perpetuity, forever changing the New Hampshire we know.

In Concord, the towers proposed were to be the tallest of any along the route, rivaling the State House in size. Northern Pass’s preferred route would bring 8.1 miles of towers through our city, with 77 proposed new structures, a majority of which would have been between 85 and 100 feet tall. This would have brought the towers into close contact with dense residential neighborhoods, particularly on the Heights.

It is one thing to cite the impacts of Northern Pass upon our city and on the state as a whole. But don’t take my word for it. Consider the testimony – in word and in deed – of the thousands upon thousands of Granite Staters from throughout the state who stepped forward during this process and overwhelmingly opposed Northern Pass. We have rarely seen an issue galvanize such a coalition against something as we have in the case of Northern Pass. The fact that grassroots opposition coalesced so quickly and so early in the process, and has only grown and strengthened in the ensuing years is a testament to the passion of activists opposing Northern Pass. When considering whether Northern Pass is in the public interest, we should listen to the public who very loudly and clearly have said it is not from the beginning.

When the SEC rejected Northern Pass’s application for a site certificate last year, we could be pleased at the thoughtful result the hard-working committee members arrived at, but we knew the process wasn’t yet over. Unsurprisingly, Northern Pass appealed the SEC decision to our state Supreme Court, and last month the court finally heard that appeal. Any reasonable person who watched or listened could see that the opponents had the better argument. So now we wait.

And as we await the court’s decision, we cannot assume what may or may not happen next. The court could remand the case for further consideration by the SEC. The court could uphold the SEC’s decision and effectively put an end to this version of Northern Pass, with the possibility that the supporters of Northern Pass may seek to redraw and refile an entirely new application.

What I do know is this: After nine very long, very contentious years, it is time for us to close the door on Northern Pass once and for all. New Hampshire deserves better.

(Rob Werner is a Concord city councilor for Ward 5.)

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