Déjà vu? Northern Pass is Back in the News

Anna Berry | December 13, 2022

August 2017: The Site Evaluation Committee charged with rendering judgment on the application by Eversource for the 192-mile Northern Pass Transmission line through New Hampshire heard final input from members of the public regarding the project at a hearing.

More than two years after Eversource ended efforts to advance the Northern Pass project, the issue is back in the news after recent comments from Governor Chris Sununu on the state's energy challenges.

Several media outlets have covered the Governor's comments made during election season and more recently, including Colebrook's News and Sentinel and InDepthNH.

On December 9, InDepthNH's Paula Tracy reported that "Gov. Chris Sununu has been doing a deep dive into the exploding heat and energy costs looking at the region’s grid into the future, renewables, and said he believes that hydropower is one of the state’s best options for inexpensive, renewable energy."

Tracy added: "Newly elected for a fourth term, Sununu spoke at length about utility concerns and said he thinks a new version of the controversial Northern Pass may be the solution. Sununu supported the Northern Pass project which failed to get approval from state regulators and was the source of significant opposition with its plan to run electricity on high voltage transmission from Quebec through New Hampshire into Massachusetts."

According to Tracy, Sununu said: "I think hydro is a huge opportunity for this state that we have not fully capitalized on, not just hydro here from out of Quebec. That is some of the cheapest electricity in the western hemisphere…and it is literally just a few miles over our border. Let’s find a way to tap into it. Whether it is another version of Northern Pass or another expansion of opportunities working with some of the utilities here, that is all on the table. We will make sure we do it right, but I think we have to allow every possibility to come to the table because individuals will go cold. Individuals, unfortunately, will go without heat whether it is this winter or next winter.'"

Garry Rayno followed up on the Governor's comments in InDepthNH the following day: "The idea of resurrecting Northern Pass has not escaped some of the project’s long-time opponents."

“We’re keeping our eye on it,” said Forest Society President Jack Savage.

Northern Pass was a corporate partnership between Eversource and Hydro-Quebec to construct a 192-mile, high-voltage transmission line from Canada through New Hampshire to bring electricity to load centers in greater Boston.

A Long Saga

The project was introduced to the public in 2010 as a private "merchant project" and shortly thereafter became one of the most controversial proposals the state has ever seen. More than 30 towns directly impacted by Northern Pass voted at town meetings to oppose the project.

Thousands of individuals expressed their opposition to federal and state regulators with permitting authorities for the project and more than 8,000 people signed a petition in 2015 urging former Governor Maggie Hassan to insist on the complete burial of Northern Pass.

After 70 days of evidentiary hearings from 2017 to 2018, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee concluded that Northern Pass had failed to meet its burden of proof to demonstrate that it should be awarded a siting permit. 

Early threats by the developers to use eminent domain led to the passing of HB 648 in 2012, which prohibited merchant transmission line projects from using eminent domain. In response, Northern Pass spent more than $40 million buying land in order to gain access to a potential route. However, the Forest Society worked successfully with local landowners to block the route for an overhead line through northern New Hampshire.

From the beginning of this multi-year battle, the Forest Society advocated that if the Northern Pass transmission line was to be built in New Hampshire, it should be buried in its entirety along an existing transportation corridor like Interstate 93. Similar projects proposed to bring Hydro Quebec electricity to markets in southern New England through Vermont and Maine are proposed to completely bury the transmission lines. 

On July 25, 2019, less than a week after the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision affirming the also unanimous decision of the NH Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) to deny a siting permit for Eversource’s Northern Pass project, Eversource informed the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (the other SEC) that the Northern Pass project has “been brought to an end.”

The Forest Society's advocacy team continues to track the issue today and noted in 2019 that: "While Northern Pass appears to be dead, we must remain vigilant. A project very similar to Northern Pass was proposed in New Hampshire in the 1980s. It was not built as proposed in New Hampshire, only after citizens rose in protest. History has a way of repeating itself."

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