by Donna Jordan
The debate rages on whether the proposed Northern Pass transmission line project can become a reality. In the meantime, project land agents continue to negotiate with North Country property owners, where 45 miles of new right-of-way is needed for a transmission line right of way, even before the project seeks the needed state approvals.
Last week, Renewable Properties, Inc., a subsidiary of Public Service of N.H., filed an easement deed for a right of way through land owned by Laurie Hodgman in Stewartstown. The land is near property that Laurie’s mother, Monda Placey, had sold to Renewable Properties, Inc., back in February.
The Hodgman property, however, does not appear to be an out-right sale of land to the utility, but instead a right-of-way easement, and the amount of money she seemingly received for the right-of-way is very little, when compared to the millions of dollars that other property owners have received for the Hydro-Quebec project. The Chronicle received an email from Bob Baker, a Columbia landowner and lawyer who has become a spokesman for North Country residents opposed to the project. He said, "The Hodgman easement transaction is. Given the extremely high sales prices previously disclosed in Northern Pass’ transmission corridor sale transactions, there is no way that any landowner would sell an open-ended, no-places-off-limits,corridor easement over 78 acres ofwith a fairly new home built on it for what amounts to $2,666.67 or less.dollars is the minimum transfer tax according to the statute and that translates to a purchase price of $2,666.67 or less," said Baker in an email to the Chronicle.
The Chronicle talked with Jack Savage, Vice President of Communications and Outreach, who provided an opinion of the Forest Society regarding the land transactions that have taken place over the past 15 months. "We don’t believe they are going to be able to buy their way through Coos County," he said adamantly. "I think we know pretty well exactly what route they want, and based on that knowledge, we continue to believe they are not going to find a route through Coos County without use of eminent domain," said Savage.
He also suggested that there might be a larger and more important question beyond the scope of land transactions that New Hampshire residents should question: "The news is that these guys have no interest in any alternatives and are utterly ignoring what the people of New Hampshire have said they want or don’t want," said Savage. "New Hampshire has effectively said no to this project in any number of ways—29 towns have taken a vote and said no, 2,500 people have stood in front of the Dept. of Energy and said we don't want this, the Governor has said you need to get the support of the communities if you want this. And what has PSNH and Northern Pass’s reaction been? To ignore all of that. To bring in a big bag of Canadian money and try to buy their way into a landscape that people don’t want spoiled." While it’s up to every landowner to make a choice to sell or not sell, explained Savage, Northern Pass would have an impact on a wide swath of the entire state’s landscape. "Their visual landscape has an effect on everybody—from the tourist who goes up north once a year, to the seasonal landowner who goes up there 40 times a year, to the people who live there year round. This is something that’s not wanted. The legislature voted against it by saying you can’t have eminent domain. And yet these guys persist." He added, "Based on our knowledge, as they cause all kinds of conflict and concern and anxiety up north, they are not going to get there."
Savage also suggested that a recent Power Generators Association report indicates that the power that Hydro-Quebec is looking at sending to the New England market through the Northern Pass line would actually be diverted from power that is currently being sent to Ontario. "That report revealed more clearly, in order for Hydro Quebec to provide the amount of power that they say they are gong to provide to the New England market, they are going to have to divert power they are currently sending to Ontario, and Ontario has been investing in gas fired electrical generation. Why is that important? Because this project is being sold as a renewable energy project. But, there’s no net reduction when all Hydro Quebec is gong to do is divert from Ontario in order to sell it more profitably in New England," he suggests. "What it means is that Northern Pass is not in any way what it purports to be. New Hampshire should be assessing Northern Pass based on what it really is, not on the marketing plan that suggests something completely different," said Savage. "There’s not any likelihood that it is going to reduce fossil fuels. And it won’t be transferring power all the time, but you’re sure going to be able to look at it all the time." And, he asserts, based on the report, the Northern Pass will not save any rate payers any money.
The debate continues further south in the state, where an existing PSNH line has been proposed to host the Northern Pass from Groveton to Deerfield. The Forest Society recently included a video on its website of a Deerfield family who is opposed to the project, and to the widening of the right of way across their back yard. Gina Neily explained how a Northern Pass representative approached her and her husband and described how a tower for the project can be placed just a few feet from the family’s home and still not be a safety issue. "We were told by a PSNH representative that they could put the tower as close as 16 feet beside our house and the wires had to be at least 29 feet above our house. I don’t think anybody would want that in their back yard," she said. In the video, she and he husband both state they are opposed to the Northern Pass.
Reacting to their concerns, Savage said, "The story really is the behavior of a company. What the project really is and what it’s not. And the fact that people from Pittsburg to Deerfield have the same reaction—it strikes them wrong. In part because it’s being sold as something it simply is not; it’s not a green project, it’s not even a clean energy project, it’s about a business transaction. And the collective community in New Hampshire has to give up its landscape in order for the stockholders to be enriched at Northeast Utilities. It’s the industrialization of that landscape—and it’s sad, it’s tragic really, that executives coming from an urban and suburban landscape, that has already been despoiled in that way, have lost the ability to see or feel the impact that their infrastructure has on an unspoiled place," he said.
In the meantime, North Country residents have been waiting since last spring when PSNH spokesman Martin Murray said that the North Country route as proposed was off the map and they were looking for a new route. Today, residents wonder when that new route will be announced. During a N.H. Public Radio interview on "The Exchange" program with host Laura Knoy on Monday, she asked Murray when would the revised route be announced. Murray’s response was, "let’s say it hypothetically is September," and then he went on to explain what could be ahead for public hearings with the Dept. of Energy.
"Once again Northern Pass has delayed when they said they would announce a route," responded Savage. "That suggests they are in trouble. Now they are walking backwards on what their CEO told stockholders several weeks ago." Savage also said that new of land purchases is a sign of progress for stockholders. "It is for stockholders to feel like they are making progress—but the real news is Martin Murray saying they ‘might’ announce a route in September. This is an indication they are running into problems. That land goes up and down. They need the right parcels of land. Being able to engineer the project along that landscape is a whole different deal," he said. "A year ago, they were saying they would have a new route in June, then they said in November, then they said the end of the year, then it was they don’t know, then it was August, now it’s hypothetically September," said Savage. "These are all indications they can’t get there from here. They are trying to trot out old news in order to roll back perception, especially among stockholders. They are having trouble," he said.
In the meantime, suggests Savage, the goodwill reputation of PSNH within New Hampshire could be on a downward spiral. "It’s unfortunate they’ve done that for such an ill advised project," he said.