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Start of DOE's Northern Pass scoping hearings heats up rhetoric

September 25, 2013
BOSTON-CONCORD—MANCHESTER — Strong opinions were advanced on the proposed 1,200 megawatt Northern Pass Transmission (NPT) project in the days leading up to this week's four public "scoping" hearings being held by the U. S. Department of Energy which will continue until tomorrow evening, Sept. 26, in Colebrook.

The "Boston Sunday Globe" published an editorial on Sept. 15 headlined: "Gains outweigh the costs for hydropower from Quebec."

The editorial acknowledges that it's understandable New Hampshire residents are concerned about an "elevated power line" cutting its mountain ranges but goes on to point out that "a June report issued by the New England ISO — the regional body that oversees the New England power grid — there are 28 decades-old coal and oil power plants now on line" that are expected to be taken out of service by 2020, the Globe points out. "Combined, these plants produce over 8,000 megawatts of power that will need to be replaced. Some will probably be converted to natural gas facilities, but that would only further concerns about New England's overreliance on a single fuel source.

"As of 2011, over half of all the region's current power comes from natural gas, which is relatively difficult to transport and nearly impossible to store at power plants. This situation also leaves New England dangerously susceptible to price changes. In an ideal world, solar and wind power would be able to fill this impending gap, but the technology to deliver such energy on the necessary scale isn't yet economically feasible. The development of these clean energy technologies should be strongly encouraged, but it isn't a good reason to reject Canadian hydropower."

The "Globe" also acknowledges that HydroQuebec is now "building a massive, four-dam complex on the Romaine River in Canada. "… over the lifespan of the dam, hydropower adds much less CO2 (carbon dioxide) to the environment than fossil fuels, and the Northern Pass project will help New England reduce its carbon footprint significantly — especially if it's supplemented by other renewables."

The editorial notes: "Northeast Utilities left a bad first impression with its heavy-handed efforts to sell its initial plan to New Hampshirites, and this has forced the company to play two years of expensive damage control, including drawing an entirely new route through northern New Hampshire that brings the cost of the project to $1.4 billion.

"But no amount of bad public relations changes the fact that New England needs new energy sources soon, and Northern Pass's offer of relatively green, relatively cheap Canadian hydropower is one of the best available options.

"It would be a mistake not to pursue it."

Gov. Maggie Hassan e-mailed out a rebuttal, written as an "op-ed," late Friday afternoon. It represents a change from what she said in late June when Northern Pass announced its new route: "...I encourage the federal government to thoroughly evaluate the plan, and I will work to ensure that, in accordance with the law, New Hampshire undertakes a rigorous review process that provides significant opportunities for public voices to be fully heard...."

In contrast, on Friday she wrote, "It is disappointing that the 'Globe' perpetuated the myth that large-scale hydroelectric power and Northern Pass are one and the same. Rather, Northern Pass is one proposed project that would import large-scale hydro to southern New England – and as the 'Globe' points out, the project has made every possible misstep thus far."

Hassan acknowledges that "New England, like the rest of the country, is experiencing a rapidly changing energy landscape" but continues to have too-high energy prices without enough focus on innovation or research and development.

"New Hampshire understands the need to pursue modern and long-term energy strategies that will help lower costs, protect our natural resources, and create good jobs.

"Our State Energy Council is developing a 10-year energy strategy for New Hampshire that will address a variety of issues. We are also working with other states in the region on many other related energy-planning projects, including an analysis of the role of a wide range of energy sources.

"The recent editorial failed to note that N. H. already produces more energy than we use, and that we have done more than our fair share of establishing a diverse mix of energy resources, which benefit the rest of the region and help to power southern New England. While we appreciate that those who are net importers of energy need new sources, other states must understand that N. H. must do our own math on the costs and benefits of any energy project that would impact our state," she said.

"Expanding traditional energy sources like large-scale hydropower does not mean just accepting what Northern Pass has put on the table, and no one should accept Northern Pass's assertion that the only way for New England to access Canadian hydropower is to trade away the majestic beauty of the White Mountains," Hassan said.

"The 'Globe' is absolutely right that New Hampshire's natural beauty is one of our region's treasures, but that description does not come close to explaining what our natural resources mean to the Granite State. They are essential to our high quality of life, which helps attract talented people and new businesses to our state. Our natural resources and natural beauty are also essential to our travel and tourism economy — our second largest industry — which generates billions of dollars and creates thousands of jobs….

"While it's clear that Northern Pass officials recognized the need to revise their proposed route, their latest proposal buries only eight miles of lines and would still put towers, potentially taller than trees, through miles of the White Mountain National Forest, a treasure that draws admirers from around the world.

"Like our New England neighbors, New Hampshire is working hard to reduce harmful fossil fuel emissions in order to clear the air and views of our great vistas. Why would we then sacrifice those views to miles and miles of towers?

"New England is demanding newer, cleaner and more innovative energy sources – energy sources that create jobs here in New England," the governor said. "We should also demand newer, cleaner and more innovative transmission methods."

Hassan does not speak to the considerable backlash in the northern three counties to the idea of siting more wind towers on its ridgelines, also center of much of the opposition to Northern Pass.

"In New York, the Champlain Hudson Power Express, an energy transmission project that includes Canadian hydropower, is burying more than 300 miles of lines. Why shouldn't we fully examine those types of technology — and route — alternatives for New England? If the solution can be found for New York, we should find a solution for New England and train New England workers to lead the way in new transmission technology and infrastructure construction.

"Exploring new energy sources like large-scale hydropower does not mean just accepting what Northern Pass has offered. As it stands, for the people of New Hampshire, the project is all costs and few, if any, savings. All people in New England deserve better, and the people of New Hampshire will continue to demand better," Hassan concluded.

Three environmental intervenors in the DOE's Presidential Permit application process — Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF), and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) — filed comments on Sept. 17 asserting that Northern Pass' amended application still remains "incomplete and inconsistent with DOE regulations." The trio say that it "amounts to a poorly cited legal brief that is utterly lacking in factual support, in lieu of the detailed technical and environmental document that DOE's regulations and the circumstances of this particular project require. They urge "DOE to strike and reject the Amended Application with prejudice to any further application or amendment. They point out that the application includes no practical alternatives, fails to provide required information on impacts on the project in the U.S. or on the power sources in Quebec, Canada, and also includes unsubstantiated factual assertions" on a number of topics.

The New England Power Generators Association (NEPGA), a trade association, filed comments on Wednesday with the USDOE that also raised concerns with the recently updated Presidential Permit application, challenging it as "incomplete and containing numerous inaccuracies" and concluding it should be withdrawn and corrected.

Martin Murray, manager of media relations of PSNH-Northeast Utilities, rebutted the three conservation groups as NEPGA: "The benefits of Northern Pass to New Hampshire and New England are clear. It will help reduce carbon emissions, and it will help reduce energy prices. It's not a question of whether this line should be built, but how. We believe the process will best determine that.

"NEPGA wants to stop the process because when Northern Pass succeeds, its (members') more expensive power plants won't be as profitable as they are today."

Murray continued, "It's somewhat curious that SPNHF would question the clear benefits of the project, since the Forest Society voted several years ago, as part of the NH Climate Action Task Force, to build a new transmission line from Canada into New Hampshire. The Northern Pass is exactly the type of project the Forest Society advocated for."

He pointed out that the actual wording of the recommendation for which Will Abbott of SPNHF voted "yes" reads: "…high voltage transmission lines should be built to import clean power generated from Canadian hydro and wind sources as a complementary policy to developing non-CO2-emitting generation in New Hampshire…."

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