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Northern Pass Route Options Announced

The U.S. Department of Energy issued a list last week of more than 20 alternative options for the Northern Pass project that it will study during its ongoing environmental evaluation of the $1.4 billion electric transmission plan.

Many of the alternative routes outlined in the report include additional burial of the transmission lines, ranging from burying roughly 20 miles of line that pass through the White Mountain National Forest to burying the entire route.

The list reveals what kinds of alternatives the department will study before releasing a draft environmental impact statement expected later this year and later, a decision on whether to grant the project its necessary permit.

The list’s release was praised widely, by lawmakers, critics and supporters of the project, who said publicizing the alternatives increases transparency in the process.

“We didn’t know before today what alternatives had been identified by the public … by the developer, (that) were even on the table,” said Christophe Courchesne of the Conservation Law Foundation.

“I am encouraged that the U.S. Department of Energy has heard the concerns of New Hampshire citizens and has agreed to examine a wide range of options on the proposed Northern Pass project, including several underground options,” Gov. Maggie Hassan said in a statement.

As currently planned, the Northern Pass transmission lines would run 153 miles from Pittsburg to a converter station in Franklin. Then, 34 miles of overhead lines would travel from there to a substation in Deerfield. According to the current route plan, eight miles of the total 187 miles of transmission lines would be buried.

The Department of Energy’s list of alternatives outlines several new route options that include major additional burial. One proposes burying the entire project along its existing route. Another proposes an underground transmission line for the entire length of a new route that would travel along existing roadways and rights of way. In that case, the proposed route would pass south on Interstate 93 to Concord and then head east on Interstate 393.

Further options include burying a section of the line when it passes through the White Mountain National Forest or burying only the section between Pittsburg and the proposed converter station in Franklin.

At least two of the alternative routes identified by the Department of Energy report skirt the northern Upper Valley, running through Haverhill, Warren and Wentworth.

One would use railroad and roadway rights-of-way for a buried transmission line, the other an existing National Grid right-of-way for a transmission line that already carries power from Quebec to Massachusetts.

The serious effort to identify alternative underground options is encouraging, Courchesne said.

“One can read from the tea leaves that this thing is headed toward … far more burial than they are proposing now,” said Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

The proposed burial of eight miles of transmission lines along Northern Pass’s planned route added more than $100 million to the project’s cost, said Northern Pass spokeswoman Lauren Collins.

On average, she said, overhead transmission lines cost about $3 million a mile while underground lines run $15 million to $20 million a mile.

In addition to studying environmental impact, part of the evaluation process is considering the economic factors as well, she said, “because the ultimate goal is to have a preferred route that allows the project to meet its goals.”

Other options outlined in the report include no-build alternatives, instead relying on energy conservation to offset future needs or increasing the capacity of existing energy operations in the area.

One thing missing from the entire list of options, Savage said, was any alternative entry point at the Canadian-U.S. border. In all the listed routes, the transmission lines cross into Pittsburg.

And even though the report outlines a variety of alternatives, it leaves several questions unanswered, Courchesne said. The department will not study all of the listed options in detail, it will only look at those it determines are feasible.

“It is a good preliminary look at what alternatives they are going to look at,” Savage said. “It gives us some indication as to what direction they are going in.”

Allie Morris can be reached at 603-369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.