Residents voice concerns about Northern Pass project


January 11, 2011
PLYMOUTH — A standing room only crowd of concerned residents from Plymouth and several surrounding communities gathered at Town Hall to air their concerns about the Northern Pass project during Monday night's meeting of the Plymouth Board of Selectmen.

A trio of representatives from Public Service of New Hampshire who have been heavily involved in the project were invited to Monday's meeting by the selectmen to field questions about the massive energy initiative.

Offering the audience a brief overview, Laurel Brown, Communications Manager for the Northern Pass project, explained that the goal of the project — a joint venture between the Canadian-based utility company Hydro-Quebec and Connecticut-based Northeast Utilties (PSNH's parent company) — is to increase the production of renewable energy by bringing 1,200 megawatts of hydro-electric power into New England along a 140-mile-long network of transmission lines stretching from the Quebec/New Hampshire border to a substation in Franklin.

If successful, Brown added, the project would generate enough electricity to power a million homes.

Brown's colleague, Brian Bosse, explained that the transmission lines would be mounted above ground on a series of towers measuring anywhere from 90 to 135 feet in height, depending on how much space construction crews have to work with (along certain portions of the proposed route, he said, it may become necessary to increase the height of the towers in order to compensate for a lack of adequate space on the ground).

According to Bosse, the first 40 miles of the proposed route (which he called the "preferred route") would entail cutting a new 150-foot-wide right-of-way through the wilderness of the North Country. From there, the lines would follow existing PSNH right-of-ways for the remaining 100 miles, including a 10-mile stretch through the White Mountain National Forest.

An alternate route has also been laid out, in the event of permitting difficulties, that would take the lines through Plymouth, rather than to the east of town, where the preferred route lies.

Asked by Selectman Daryl Browne how often he had been forced to switch to an alternate route on similar projects in the past, Bosse said he could not recall an instance where the preferred route had not been approved.

With Hydro-Quebec and PSNH currently in the process of negotiating a long-term agreement for power, Laurel Brown explained that the most significant benefit for communities along the Northern Pass corridor would be competitively priced power.

Due to the fact that the 1,200 megawatts of hydro-power generated by the project would be displacing 1,200 megawatts of power produced by the burning of fossil fuels, she said, another benefit would be a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions — particularly carbon dioxide, which she said could be cut down by as much as 2.5 million tons per year.

The project, she continued, would also funnel $1.1 billion into New Hampshire's economy, primarily through construction jobs, and would generate anywhere from $15 million to $20 million in tax revenue.

It was the potential impact on local landowners, and on the quality of life in the area, that weighed heaviest on the minds of those in the audience.

Plymouth resident and former state senator Deb Reynolds publicly voiced her opposition to the project and wondered aloud how the community would be able to recoup the lost property values and the damage to its way of life that might result from the proposal.

"You're asking to use our resources and our backyards for your financial benefit," she said, adding that she was concerned not just for Plymouth, but for the North Country as a whole.

Gail Beaulieu, a resident of Plymouth, said she and several of her family members were concerned about their ability to sell off a parcel of land they jointly own that is located near a PSNH right-of-way in Campton which would be part of the preferred route.

Stating that she is also employed in the mortgage business, Beaulieu said she had seen several clients walk away from sales once they learned that the homes were located along the proposed route.

Beaulieu also voiced concern over the fact that alternate route through Plymouth would bring the project close to her neighborhood.

John Kelly said he had heard promises of cleaner and less expensive power during construction of the biomass plants in Bridgewater and Alexandria, and pointed out that local utility companies ended up paying more to buy power from those facilities, rather than less.

After reviewing an enlarged version of the map depicting the alternate route, Town Administrator Paul Freitas noted that the route, which was marked in blue, "hits every major conservation easement and aquifer in town."

"We couldn't draw a line on here and make it any worse than this blue line," he added.

Asked by an audience member how she and her fellow selectmen planned to involve themselves in the project going forward, board Chair Valerie Scarborough explained that the selectmen have filed, on the town's behalf, for intervener status in the ongoing Presidential permitting process, which is overseen by the federal Department of Energy.

They will, she said, be making the town's position known at every opportunity, and will keep townspeople informed of any chance for public input.

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