Eversource gives up on Northern Pass hydropower project

  • Opponents of the proposed Northern Pass power project protest outside the New Hampshire Supreme Court, Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in Concord, N.H., where a hearing is being held on the future of the project. (AP Photo/Michael Casey) Michael Casey

Monitor staff
Published: 7/26/2019 8:56:39 AM

Bowing to the inevitable, Eversource has officially taken Northern Pass off the table.

In a statement late Thursday, the company said that “after evaluating all potential options following last week’s decision by the New Hampshire Supreme Court on Northern Pass, it is clear there is no path forward for the project.”

Eversource on Thursday submitted a filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, telling shareholders that it spent more than $318 million over a decade putting together the proposed transmission line. It is writing off about $200 million of that expense, which equates to about 64 cents per share.

Last week, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the project’s 2018 rejection by the state Site Evaluation Committee, which must approve major energy projects. The court ruling left no feasible way for the project to go forward.

Eversource proposed Northern Pass in 2011 as a shareholder-funded way to sell 1,090 megawatts of hydropower from HydroQuebec into the New England grid. It first sought state approval in 2015. Eversource repeatedly predicted that Northern Pass would be built by 2020.

Despite framing the transmission project as a win for the environment and economy, Eversource was never able to overcome opposition from a determined collection of town officials, environmentalists and residents. Often clad in orange in the numerous public hearings, opponents argued that the project would damage the state’s tourism economy and destroy rural communities.

Eversource’s proposal called for building a 192-mile transmission line across New Hampshire to supply power to almost a million homes in southern New England. It argued that the $1.6 billion project would bring clean energy to the region and help the economy.

The company initially had the support of Gov. Chris Sununu, received a series of federal approvals and was chosen to provide clean energy to Massachusetts. But members of the Site Evaluation Committee questioned the project’s promised benefits and worried about the impact it would have on rural communities. They defeated the project last year amid concerns that towering transmission lines would hurt property values, tarnish scenic views and scare off tourists that come for the fall colors.

The company responded to the rejection by saying it would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate property owners, fund energy efficiency programs and help low-income residents in a last-ditch effort to salvage the project.

But the committee denied the appeal, and the state’s high court affirmed the committee’s ruling. That prompted Sununu, one of the most prominent backers of the project, to pull his support.

The project’s defeat by the SEC last year prompted Massachusetts to shift to a similar one that would bring Canadian hydropower through transmission lines in Maine. The $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect has won the support of Maine Gov. Janet Mills. The Maine Public Utilities Commission also gave its approval, but several other agencies must sign off on the project.

(Associated Press contributed to this report. David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com.)
David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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