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PSNH begins planning for 1,200-MW Hydro-Quebec line

September 09, 2009
BERLIN — Although the proposed 140-mile-long 1,200-megawatt (MW) Hydro-Quebec tie-line project to run north-south across much of New Hampshire is not yet a done deal, steps are well underway to make it a reality.

Three Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) spokesmen — economic and community development manager Pat McDermott, senior media specialist Martin Murray, and municipal relations/external affairs specialist Allison McLean — updated the press on the status of this potential project. The high voltage direct current (HVDC) Hydro-Quebec (HQ) transmission line plan aims to bring low-carbon hydroelectric power from the Canadian border south to the 345-Kilovolt (kV) system, likely in Franklin.

On May 21, after studying the request for six months, the Federal Energy Commission (FERC) gave the green light to an arrangement under which

Northeast Utilities (NU), which wholly owns PSNH, and NSTAR, formerly Boston Edison, would own the U.S. portion of the HQ tie line.

The line would be paid for by participants (customers) under FERC-approved rates, meaning that NU and NSTAR will not "socialize" the costs by charging higher electric rates to all of the region's customers, but only those who are the direct beneficiaries. HQ would pay up-front for the project, but NU and NSTAR customers would then pay the Canadian–owned company back through increased rates per kilowatt.

Negotiations with HQ — led by PSNH president Gary Long — on a complex power purchase agreement that will include details on such issues as which utility company would pay what share of transmission line maintenance costs, have not yet been concluded.

"It's not a done deal," Mr. McDermott explained.

The precise allocation of the available electric power is also still up in the air. New Hampshire could get 20 percent of the power, all of it transmitted below the Notches, Mr. McDermott said.

"Whatever the percentage is would have to make sense for New Hampshire," he emphasized.

Anne Bartosewicz of NU, who earned a BSChE degree at the University of Connecticut and an MBA at the University of Hartford, is the project team director.

PSNH's project manager is Brian Bosse, who works at Energy Park in Manchester. Burns & McDonnell of Kansas City, Mo., has been chosen to route and design the line. Burns & McDonnell, according to its website, is a full-service engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions firm with more than 2,900 employee-owners, including engineers, architects, construction experts, planners, estimators, economists, technicians and scientists, from nearly all design disciplines. The firm plans, designs, permits, constructs, and manages facilities all over the world.

"This is a mega-project," said Ms. McLean, who noted that local surveyors and wetlands specialists would be used.

A number of routing scenarios — potential routes — will be examined with the "preferred route" likely selected and announced early in the first three months of 2010.

"We'll work closely with the communities and seek feedback," Ms. McLean explained.

A number of environmental organizations and state agencies have already been sought out and alerted to be ready to make comments: the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF); state Fish and Game Department; U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service; The Nature Conservancy (TNC); and both state Divisions of Parks and Recreation and Forests and Lands (which holds a conservation easement on the Connecticut Headwaters property), that are under the umbrella of the state Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED).

Siting the HQ line will also require the approval of the state Site Evaluation Committee (SEC).

If all goes as now envisioned, construction would begin in 2011 and the line completed in 2014.

At present, there are no plans to run any section of the tie line through Vermont.

"Adding an additional state to the proposed plan would just add complexity, doubling the permitting and other challenges, since the line would at some point have to cross into New Hampshire," Mr. McDermott said.

To the greatest extent possible, existing rights-of-way will be used," Mr. McDermott explained.

New rights-of-way (R-O-W) must be secured in the northern reaches of Pittsburg for the first 10 or 11 miles, however.

Further south, distribution R-O-Ws — and not transmission R-O-Ws — will likely be used in places, such as Colebrook, on the way to the Lost Nation substation in Northumberland, he said.

The line will likely terminate at the Webster substation in Franklin.

If existing distribution R-O-Ws are used as sites for transmission lines, then these distribution lines would have to be moved to one side and new R-O-Ws established.

Current estimates indicate that at least 600 individual easements would be affected.

Because of the FERC ruling, the electric power company will have the right of eminent domain.

"Using this right would be only be a last resort," Mr. McDermott explained. "We don't want to unless we need to."

He also hastened to assure the reporters on hand that bringing in a 1,200-MW line would not diminish in any way the potential for Coös to strengthen its position as New Hampshire's center for renewable energy.

This is because, as now written, HQ's hydro-power would not meet the definition of renewable energy that would fulfill the state's goal of generating 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Nonetheless, Mr. McDermott pointed out, the state and southern New England are dependent on older generating facilities.

The HQ project — which, if built, would be 97 percent carbon-free — would help reduce carbon emissions and meet the goals of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Asked if PSNH would be interested in signing "community benefit agreements" with towns through which the transmission line would run, Mr. McDermott indicated that PSNH is in a listening mode. The impacts would be greater in Coös which could call for mitigation, he said, acknowledging that the "benefits of the project would be greater" below the Notches.

As part of this effort, the PSNH trio also met last week with community leaders in Colebrook, Berlin, and Groveton.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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