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Littleton learns of Northern Pass


February 23, 2011
LITTLETON- Representatives from the Northern Pass project, which aims to build a 180-mile high voltage, direct current transmission line through New Hampshire, presented their proposal to the town of Littleton at last Wednesday's selectmen's meeting. Littleton is one of the last towns in the North Country to hear from Northern Pass, and the response was not as adamantly opposed as other towns, but residents were skeptical of what benefits the project could bring to the area to offset the decrease in tourism and property values the line could cause.

Northern Pass is a joint venture by Northeast Utilities, (of which Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) is a subsidiary), NSTAR, and Hydro Quebec. The $1.1 billion project would construct a transmission line of 90 to 135-foot steel towers through New Hampshire that would funnel power to southern New England. The project was announced in October and is currently in its permitting phase, seeking approval from the Department of Energy (DOE) for a Presidential Permit, which is required for projects that cross international borders. The DOE is putting together an Environmental Impact Statement, and will be conducting five public scoping meetings across the state starting next month to get public input on the proposed path

Though the transmission line's preferred route does not cut across Littleton (its alternate route does), business owners fear the line's visibility to tourists as they come out of Franconia Notch would have a serious effect on tourism. The representatives said the existing towers of the power line are 40 feet along the road and 50 to 90 feet along rights-of-way, to give some perspective.

"I'd really ask you to reconsider the blight on the North Country that you are going to see when you come out of the Notch," said Resident Jim Alden.

PSNH Development Manager Pat McDermott encouraged all residents with concerns such as Alden to attend the public scoping meetings, and participate in the process. PSNH Spokesperson Allison McLean said constructive feedback like which viewsheds are sacred is exactly what the federal (DOE) and state (Site Evaluation Committee) authorities will be looking for during the permitting processes.

"We certainly would want to do everything reasonable that we could to avoid economic impact," said McLean.

McDermott echoed that sentiment.

"We just want to make this process better," said McDermott. "We want to make the project as good as we can."

Alden remained skeptical.

"Once we start putting metal structures along the North Country...that's a long-term cost you're asking us to bear," said Alden.

Jan Edick, a former NSTAR employee, pointed out that the state doesn't need more energy as it exports the power it has now. McLean said the Northern Pass is a 40-year project, and the power may be needed down the road. Edick questioned the ethics of relying on the citizens of Quebec to provide the region power that the region could be creating itself. McDermott said the company is trying to transition from large-scale fossil plants to renewable energy. Northern Pass representatives also noted that, though Littleton will not be getting any of the power as they are not PSNH users (and, even if they were, no purchase power agreement has yet been reached between PSNH and Northern Pass to keep any of the power in the state), the low-cost power will result in lower prices for users across the New England power grid.

Michael King, Chairman of the North Country Council, had four questions to ask the representatives, and requested that they give either a direct answer or be honest about not being able to answer. First, King asked if Northern Pass would consider burying the line, which would appease many of the opponents who oppose the project mainly on its potential damage to tourism and property values. McDermott said Northern Pass would consider burying the line "in certain circumstances."

McDermott said he did not have the answer to King's inquiries as to whether the Northern Pass would commit to a fixed price for users and whether it would pay for the Coos Loop, a proposed transmission line that would increase declining transmission capacity in the North Country. King also asked if Northern Pass would support legislation that would allow small generation facilities to sell power without having to put it into the New England power grid. McDermott said that was a question better suited for the Public Utilities Commission.

Northern Pass would bring 1200 jobs into the state over the three-year construction period, according to representatives. Selectman Marghie Seymour questioned whether it would in local labor, and what that would entail as "local" means different things along the 180-mile project. McLean said the project hasn't yet gotten into that level of detail, but that people can investigate what sort of jobs the project will be looking for on the website. McLean also said that though preference will be given to local labor, that doesn't mean there won't be specialized jobs that will require bringing workers in.

Representatives encouraged those with questions to investigate further on the Northern Pass website at www.northernpass.us, to email at info@northernpass.us, or to call at 1-800-286-7305. Calls will reach a recording, but representatives will get back to those who leave a message. The DOE's closest public scoping sessions will be held in Lincoln at the Loon Mountain Club on March 16 at 6 p.m., and in Whitefield at the Mountain View Grand on March 17 at 6 p.m.

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