State regulators delay deadline on Northern Pass decision

  • The easement portion of Dean Wilbur's property in Concord on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Power lines stretch north from Mary Lee's Northfield home into Salisbury, June 16, 2011. A band of woods obstructs the view from her house to the power lines that run north to south. Lee fears she will lose that buffer if the Northern Pass is built. Alexander Cohn

Thursday, August 31, 2017

State regulators decided Thursday to postpone their final decision on the $1.6 billion Northern Pass Transmission project for five months and extend adjudicative hearings until the end of the year.

The deadline for an oral decision is Feb. 28, 2018, and the written decision must be released by March 31, 2018.

The Site Evaluation Committee originally had a Dec. 18, 2016, deadline to make a decision, one year after it deemed Eversource’s application for the 192-mile, high-voltage transmission line complete, but last year moved that deadline to Sept. 30, 2017.

After 30 days of adjudicative hearings on the project, the Site Evaluation Committee has not heard from all of Eversource’s witnesses with more than 100 yet to be heard from the Counsel for the Public and project intervenors.

SEC chair Martin Honigberg called the committee’s Sept. 30 deadline unrealistic and a Dec. 31 deadline was proposed, but Peter Roth, Counsel for the Public, suggested a more realistic deadline would be Feb. 28, 2018.

“We still have an enormous number of witnesses and we don’t know the available dates in October and November and then the holidays,” Roth said. “The end of February is a more comfortable time period in light of what we heard today.”

But Eversource’s lead attorney, Barry Needleman of McLane, Middleton Professional Association, noted the committee was already well beyond its statutory deadline of December 2016.

But he agreed – given the work that remains – a deadline extension is needed.

The committee articulated why it is in the public’s interest to extend the deadline, and another critical interest is that of the applicant who deserves to have the proposal considered and decided in a timely manner, Needleman said.

He said the company would like “clarity” as soon as possible as would many of the people participating in the process.

Roth and others noted it would take an estimated 39 days to complete the testimony and cross-examinations of witnesses for the Counsel for the Public and other intervenors, but Honigberg said all of the planned “friendly cross-examination” is unrealistic and not needed.

“Many (witnesses) know little beyond the boundary of their properties,” he said. “There needs to be some reasonable limits placed on friendly cross-examination. To go on for days and days and days is unrealistic and unreasonable.”

The committee has about 30 days available for hearings before the Dec. 31 deadline. The deadline for legal briefs is the end of January.

The committee does not have hearings scheduled for next week but has scheduled four days of hearings a week during the final three weeks of September.

The 1,090 megawatt transmission project to bring Hydo-Quebec electricity to southern New England was first proposed seven years ago.

Eversource had hoped to have all federal and state permits by the end of the year with construction to begin next year and the transmission line finished by the end of 2020.