My Turn: Transmission line burial isn’t better for N.H.

For the Monitor
Published: 7/27/2016 12:10:04 AM

Over the past several years, the New Hampshire Legislature has debated and killed repeated efforts to require that transmission lines be buried in New Hampshire.

Fueled by opposition to Northern Pass, these proposals have been studied in depth by the Legislature, state agencies and other key stakeholders. Ultimately, the negative impacts of this mandate has resulted in these bills being defeated.

With this policy repeatedly killed in New Hampshire, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests recently announced that it was taking its lobbying effort for this policy to Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Legislature is currently considering legislation to increase the amount of clean energy that the state purchases, possibly electricity from the proposed Northern Pass project, and SPNHF is looking to amend the bill with a requirement that any hydropower delivered to Massachusetts be underground lines.

As vice chairman of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee, I have spent considerable time reviewing this idea, and I have heard from citizens who both oppose and support the policy.

Ultimately, for my district in Coos County, I determined that this mandate would cause more harm than good.

The broad economic consequences to northern New Hampshire would be significant.

As a region that relies on summer tourism, a policy that would result in many of our key rural roads being torn up and under construction for several years causes me major concern.

For example, Route 3 serves a main street for many northern communities, and requiring a project such as Northern Pass to use that road would necessitate major disruption during our region’s most prosperous season.

As with any large construction project, transmission line development brings with it burdens on those in the vicinity of the project.

Requiring underground construction does not eliminate that burden, but simply shifts it from one community to another.

I also heard from constituents about how this policy would undermine the industrial timberlands and other large forestlands that are the backbone of our region’s economy. Forestry and tourism each rely heavily on these large tracts of land, but many of these private landowners also rely on investments and revenue from energy development to keep these lands open to the public and viable as a private investment.

In reality, this debate about full burial has never been about protecting the North Country or our struggling economy. Some have proposed that Northern Pass be buried along the edge of Interstate 93. As I travel up and down 93, I see many backyards. Moving this project onto 93 is more about getting it out of the richer neighborhoods and putting it in someone else’s neighborhood.

For environmental groups, it is about locking up more land from economic use, stripping away property rights from large landowners and undermining private ownership of timberlands.

Having been repeatedly told no, it is disappointing to see a New Hampshire environmental group attempting to go around the New Hampshire Legislature to implement this ill-conceived policy through Massachusetts.

It is also concerning to see a policy that would have such widespread negative impacts on New Hampshire, and the economy of our most vulnerable region, being debated by Massachusetts legislators who do not have our best interests at heart and do not have a complete understanding of the impacts this harmful mandate would have.

(Rep. Herb Richardson lives in Lancaster.)

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