July 03, 2012COOS COUNTY — The proposal to build a $1.1 billion electric transmission line — Northern Pass — to transmit 1,200 megawatts of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) generated by Hydro-Quebec and the project's adamant and well-organized opponents say they're confident that their viewpoint will prevail.
The project is being proposed by the newly merged Northeast Utilities — the parent company of Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) — and NSTAR Electric & Gas (formerly Boston Edison) plus Hydro-Quebec, a government-owned utility.
"We are very confident we will secure the land or agreements necessary to propose a new route for the northernmost portion of the project," explained project senior spokesman Martin Murray in an e-mail exchange, speaking of the 40-mile route from the Canadian border to the Northumberland substation. "We've worked successfully with a number of property owners.
"When we face a situation where a landowner isn't interested in working with us, we generally have a number of options for working around the property by working with other landowners. This approach has been very positive."
Murray pointed to the example of the Forest Society's effort to block Northern Pass from using a narrow utility right of way (ROW) on a section of forestland in a relatively remote corner of The Balsams Hotel and Resort.
"We've successfully worked around that," Murray said.
Before Christmas 2011, Northern Pass offered the Tillotson Corp., then-owner of The Balsams, $2.2 million for the right to run its transmission lines across 24 acres of the nearly 5,600-acre parcel. The offer was rejected, however, and instead the Tillotson Corp. agreed to sell the utility easement and a 5,800-acre conservation easement to the Forest Society for $850,000. The new local owners, Dan Hebert and Dan Dagesse, were in full agreement with this choice.
In June, Paula Tracy of the "Union Leader" reported that Northern Pass had purchased two parcels, totaling 308 acres, on Sugar Hill in Stewartstown for $2,125,000 on May 31 from Kevin Edwards of Greensboro, N. C. This is very close to the purchase price that the Tillotson Corp. was offered, which eventually would have benefited the Neil and Louise Charitable Foundation.
Bob Baker of Columbia, an attorney and a leading Northern Pass opponent from Day One, told Tracy that over $12 million has been spent in Coös County on fee purchases and rights of way under the name, "Renewable Properties."
The opposition is just as sure that it will be able to block the proposed project, at least in New Hampshire.
"I'm very confident that Northern Pass will not achieve 100 percent ownership or control of easements by September," said Will Abbott, vice president of policy and land management for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), a.k.a. Forest Society. "I don't think Northern Pass will be a through corridor by September, based on conversations that we have had ourselves with landowners." Abbott explained that the Forest Society believes there are key landowners who will not sell at any price.
"It just isn't going to work for them," he said, meaning the utility executives proposing the controversial project.
Asked whether the project would ever be built, Abbott said that he just didn't have an answer as to whether its corporate sponsors would propose a route through Vermont or western Maine.
"At this point in time, there's been a lot of property acquired but not a through corridor."
Baker fundamentally agrees with Abbott's assessment but emphasizes its statewide context.
"I am convinced that the Northern Pass project as proposed and as currently contemplated by its various spokespersons will be stopped — one way or the other," the lawyer said. "It may well be blocked on its new route plans for Coös County based on public positions taken by key landowners.
"I also believe that opposition from others throughout New Hampshire, including the Forest Society, impacted landowners from Coös County on south to Deerfield, town leaders, politicians, and the general public interested in preserving our scenic values, especially including the White Mountain National Forest, that will block the project from being built," he said. Although primarily an opponent who volunteers his time, Baker does also represent some clients who oppose specific right-of-way proposals.
"Finally, it is apparent that the economics of the project have changed dramatically over the past two years in an adverse way for Hydro-Quebec," Baker pointed out. "It is, therefore, possible that Hydro Quebec will decide to pull out if it can't find a way to get subsidies paid to it by U.S. ratepayers."