Northern Pass Trial Begins Before State Site Evaluation Committee

by Michael Cousineau, Union Leader

CONCORD — On the eve of a state hearing on the proposed Northern Pass project, opponents Wednesday delivered a petition signed by nearly 90 businesses demanding that transmission lines along the entire 192-mile route be buried.

“They realize the New Hampshire scenery is not something we want to get rid of,” said petition spokesman Andy Smith, owner of Peabody & Smith Realty in Franconia. He delivered the petition to the office of the committee that will conduct the hearing.

Eversource’s top New Hampshire executive, William Quinlan, will be the first witness before the state’s Site Evaluation Committee today, the first of a series of hearing dates that will shape the committee’s thinking on whether to issue a certificate of site and facility.

“This is like a trial,” Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said this week.

The hearing is set to start at 9 a.m. at 49 Donovan St.

The committee, which includes commissioners from several state departments, is expected to provide a written decision by late September. More than two dozen hearing dates are scheduled into July.

About 25 parties, including the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, abutting property owners and the cities of Berlin and Franklin, will be allowed to cross-examine seven scheduled Northern Pass witnesses.

“The trial of the century,” said opponent Judy Reardon of the group Protect the Granite State.

Northern Pass, which submitted its federal permit application in 2010, has altered its route over the years and has agreed to bury 60 miles. It will use 160 miles of existing transportation corridors.

“We are gratified to enjoy the support of 50 of New Hampshire’s largest businesses, including the support of the state’s largest chambers of commerce,” Murray said.

Northern Pass, which has secured an agreement with Hydro-Quebec to supply hydropower, said the project will save New Hampshire consumers $62 million a year.

Northern Pass said its New Hampshire customers will not pay for the $1.6 billion project, which will bring 1,090 megawatts of power to New England.

“It will recover its costs through the revenues received for use of the transmission line to deliver energy into the New England wholesale market,” Murray said.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests is among the most vocal of the project’s critics.

“From the forest society’s perspective, the current Northern Pass proposal is laden with unreasonable adverse impacts and offers few, if any public benefits, especially when compared to competing projects,” said Jack Savage, vice president for communications and outreach. “We think the SEC trial will make that unquestionably clear.”

Murray said Northern Pass hopes to receive state and federal permits by year’s end and become operational in late 2019 or early 2020.

Northern Pass committed to provide $200 million in funding over the first 20 years of operation to the Forward NH Fund in support of economic development, community betterment, tourism, and clean energy innovation, emphasizing host communities and the North Country

There are at least two regional rival plans, including one unveiled last month by National Grid to build a transmission power project from Canada to Londonderry.

ISO New England, operator of the region’s bulk power system and wholesale electricity marketplace, has said New England needs additional investments, including some states requiring more renewable sources of energy.

Northern Pass calls for building a new direct-current transmission line from the Canadian border to Franklin, where a converter terminal will be built to convert the electricity to alternating current. A new AC transmission line will carry the power from Franklin to an existing substation in Deerfield and into the region’s electric grid.