Sununu: Northern Pass was ‘railroaded’ by SEC

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu is seen at a news conference in front of the statehouse after winning his party's nomination Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Published: 2/11/2018 12:08:37 AM

As Massachusetts scrambles to proceed with its major clean energy project after Northern Pass’s application was recently denied, GOP Gov. Chris Sununu took to the radio on Friday to blast the Site Evaluation Committee’s unanimous 7 to 0 vote against building the controversial 192-mile powerline from Pittsburg to Deerfield.

Sununu said he was frustrated with the process in that the committee had four criteria to decide by law and chose to only look at one or two before voting it down in a surprise move on Feb. 1.

“So the ball is on the five-yard line and the referee stepped in and said ‘game over. We’re not even going to listen to anything else.’ That’s not right,” Sununu said speaking to Mike Pomp on NewsTalk 98.1 WTSN.

As a non-lawyer, Sununu said he didn’t know whether it was legal. But the decision came in too fast and never gave Eversource Energy/Northern Pass a chance to negotiate, he said.

“They couldn’t be more wrong. This was clearly a pre-staged decision, I think,” Sununu said.

Members of the Site Evaluation Committee deliberated on Northern Pass on Jan. 30 and voted it down on Feb. 1.

He said the SEC shortcut the process. Five of the seven members of the SEC represent state agencies and two are members of the public.

The members include Chairman Martin Honigberg, PUC, presiding officer; Commissioner Kathryn Bailey, PUC; Dir. Craig Wright, Department of Environmental Services; Christopher Way, Department of Business and Economic Affairs; William Oldenburg, Department of Transportation; Patricia Weathersby, public member; and Rachel Dandeneau, alternate public member.

A decision wasn’t expected for a few more weeks, Sununu said.

“They were railroaded,” Sununu said of the project.

Sununu went on to say the project would have lowered electric rates, would not interfere with tourism and would have benefited towns like Berlin and Franklin. One mother called him crying because she believed Northern Pass investment would have transformed her school system, he said.

Will Abbott of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said: “We respect the governor’s right to his own opinion about Northern Pass, and we clearly disagree with him about the impacts the project would have on the State.   We are somewhat surprised that he would lash out at the SEC by claiming their decision was ‘pre-staged.’  Those who were in the room the day the SEC made the decision – and those who take the time to read the transcript of the proceeding – know this is not the case.”

The group’s spokesman Jack Savage said: “Based on his comments, the governor seems to understand that the SEC’s decision was legal, that Northern Pass as proposed is done, and that other projects are ready alternatives.

“It’s too bad he apparently hasn’t listened carefully to the communities and thousands of people who oppose Northern Pass to better understand why this project is wrong for New Hampshire, and why the SEC decision was right,” Savage said.

Although Sununu said Northern Pass is a huge loss for New Hampshire and “it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” project spokesman Martin Murray said he remains hopeful.

“We will soon file a motion for reconsideration with the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee,” Murray said.

“Given its requirement to fully consider an application, as well as conditions that would satisfy its concerns, we are hopeful the committee will resume deliberations and the project can successfully move forward.”

A spokesman for the Mass. Department of Energy Resources (DOER) said there was a meeting with the electric distribution companies Eversource, National Grid and Unitil on Friday morning with the independent evaluator, to discuss the implications of the SEC vote.

The Massachusetts selection of Northern Pass out of 46 bidders to negotiate a contract for the Mass. clean energy project, is under scrutiny because the three major utilities helped select the winning bid.

An email from the Mass. Department of Energy Resources said more information would be forthcoming on Feb. 16.

Change the process

Sununu said he wants change.

“When you look at that process, that just screams that something’s wrong and as governor, I’m going to do what I can to fix it,” Sununu said. He didn’t specify how.

“There are other projects out there,” Sununu said. “We’re going to keep banging on doors to help get other projects done whether they are reliable energy projects or projects that help lower your electric rates.”

He didn’t say, and Sununu hasn’t responded to requests for comment from, whether they involve the National Grid project New Hampshire lawmakers are pushing.

A group of lawmakers has asked Sununu to back National Grid’s Granite State Power Link.

At the Feb. 1 deliberative session, the SEC said members couldn’t approve the application based on the issue of whther it would impact orderly development.

The committee had already agreed Eversource would have the funds to build the project, but didn’t discuss the last two before voting it downs.

The site evaluation law establishes four criteria that must be met before a permit is issued:

*The applicant has the financial, technical and managerial capability to construct and operate the facility in compliance with the certificate’s terms and conditions;

*The site and facility will not interfere with the region’s orderly development with consideration given to the opinions of local and regional planning commissions and municipal governments;

*The site and facility will not have an unreasonable adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water quality, the natural environment, and public health and safety;

*And issuing a certificate will serve the public interest.

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