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"Talk to us," say Northern Pass officials



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Christian Brosseau, president of HQ Energy Services US, left, and Gary Long, CEO of Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), said at a Feb. 15 meeting in Plymouth that the process of designing a Northern Pass project that most people can live with has just begun and that communication is very important. Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
February 24, 2011
PLYMOUTH — "Talk to us."

This was the overriding message from a Feb. 15 meeting that both Gary Long, CEO of Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH), and Christian Brosseau, president of HQ Energy Services US, said they hoped would reach North Country residents and landowners concerned about — or opposed to — the proposed low-carbon 1,200-megawatt 140-mile high-voltage Direct Current Northern Pass Transmission (NPT) project.

Their vision of communication includes kitchen-table chats, town hall forums, and public engagement in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process.

That process is designed to identify and address potential environmental impacts from the proposed project and to come up with a range of reasonable alternatives, Long explained.

The EIS will evaluate potential environmental, social, cultural, and economic issues, including visual resources as well as socioeconomic impacts, community services and infrastructure.

The process of designing a Northern Pass project that most people can live with has really just begun, Long said. 

The scoping period is set up to allow the public to help identify important issues and to pinpoint the intensity of site-specific environmental analysis. Five public scoping meetings across the state have been set up in mid-March, and written comment is critical to the process.

NPT has proposed a preferred route and in some locations an alternate route, but can be required to look at other routes based on information from the public's knowledge and/or scientific studies, Long said.

"In laying out a transmission route, we rarely go on top of ridgelines or over hilltops; we try to avoid that," he said. "We don't need to use a straight line; we can be sinuous; we can respond to quite specific concerns."

Long emphasized that it would also be useful to know what members of the public believe would be good ideas for any needed mitigation.

Pressed to come up with a likely percentage of transmission towers that would be between 100 and 135 feet tall, Long replied that it was "way to early in the process" to come up with an estimate. "We don't know the final route," he said.

He and Brosseau did point out, however, that the towers that are depicted on the opposition's campaign pins are located on either side of the St. Lawrence River. These are long double circuit spans of high-voltage 700kV Alternating Current lines, with three layers of wires, Brosseau said. Towers there could not be placed in the river itself because it is used for shipping and the span must be very long.

Northern Pass proposes to construct a single-circuit 300-kV high-voltage Direct Current aboveground transmission line mounted on structures ranging from approximately 90 feet to 135 feet tall from the Canadian border to a converter station in Franklin. Wider rights-of-way, Long said, would allow Northern pass to lower the height of the towers.

Asked why not underground, Brosseau explained that burying a transmission line would be four to 10 times as expensive and also incur additional operational costs, making it "prohibitively expensive." Extensive blasting would also be required in the Granite State. The electric transmission line would have to be oil-cooled which would require pumping, and aboveground access points would also have to be constructed.

Asked about the criticism that tribal lands were extensively flooded in northern Quebec to create the dams and reservoirs from which hydropower is generated, Brosseau explained that Hydro-Quebec had learned from the mistakes it made more than 30 years ago at James Bay. Now, he said, native peoples are partners in Hydro-Quebec's power projects in which the energy of water is used as fuel, allowing a traditional way of life to be preserved.

Northern Pass is a single purpose, limited liability company (LLC) organized in New Hampshire to develop, design, construct, own, and maintain the NPT Line. Transénergie, a division of Hydro-Québec, proposes to develop, construct, own, operate, and maintain the Canadian portion of the transmission line, extending from the Des Cantons, Quebec, substation to the U.S. border at Pittsburg.

Long pointed out that a majority of those who served on the 29-member Climate

Change Policy Task Force who developed state's 2009 Climate Change report had endorsed allowing Canadian Hydro and wind generation to be imported as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Long is intent on securing a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Hydro-Quebec for a portion of the 1,200 MWs that will be competitively priced for 40 years. He pointed out that NPT would be one of the few — possibly the only — renewable energy projects in the region that would not require a government subsidy.

Long said, "Hydro Quebec can generate and sell its power to PSNH at prices that will compete with average prices that are being set in today's marketplace by fossil-fired power plants."

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