Column: Northern Pass Remains a Flawed Proposal
Two years after the Northern Pass transmission line was announced, New Hampshire is waiting for the project’s developer, Northeast Utilities, to come forward with changes to its original proposal, with an announcement expected soon. But there should be no mistake: There are no plans for a truly “new” proposal.
All that NU is promising is a “new route” for the northernmost part of the project and some unspecified “mitigation.” In all other respects, the project on the table will be the same flawed proposal that many New Hampshire residents, communities and other concerned stakeholders have already seen and have overwhelmingly rejected.
It’s not hard to understand why so many in New Hampshire have concluded that Northern Pass should not proceed. The proposed route and overhead design was conceived for NU’s and Hydro-Quebec’s maximum financial benefit and without community input. Running through pristine New Hampshire landscapes, including the North Country and the White Mountains, and across central and southern New Hampshire, the project could visually impact 95,000 acres in the state, from Pawtuckaway State Park in the south, to conservation lands in Concord, to the Canadian border, including 3,000 acres in the White Mountain National Forest, and six scenic outlooks along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.
And despite the way Northern Pass has been marketed, it is not a “clean” and “green” project. Contrary to NU CEO Tom May’s recent representation to investors that the project “has the support of every environmental group in New England,” we do not support the Northern Pass project as currently proposed, nor are we aware of any other environmental organization that does. It not only affects the mountains, forests, and streams of New Hampshire, but the project contributes to yet more new damming and diversion of major rivers and the flooding of millions of acres of forests in Canada. Imagine: to produce the amount of power transmitted by Northern Pass, an area almost four times the size of Lake Winnipesaukee must be flooded. Despite NU’s false assertions that the hydropower to be imported through Northern Pass would have major environmental benefits, large-scale Canadian reservoirs have substantial greenhouse gas emissions with important impacts on the climate, which may cancel out any near-term emissions reductions.
Northern Pass power — and whatever uncertain economic benefit might go along with it — is primarily destined for southern New England, not the New Hampshire ratepayers to be burdened by new transmission lines. Indeed, PSNH, which is owned by NU, still has no agreement to buy any Northern Pass power for New Hampshire customers. Meanwhile, NU stubbornly continues to operate New Hampshire’s worst sources of toxic and greenhouse gas pollution, PSNH’s outdated and uneconomic coal-fired power plants in Bow and Portsmouth, sending PSNH’s rates higher while rates in the rest of New England have dropped. And despite NU claims to the contrary, ISO-New England, the independent entity that oversees the New England power grid, is not endorsing or promoting the project because the grid doesn’t need it to ensure system reliability.
At the heart of the issue is whether a private, for-profit energy project with few public benefits should be allowed to diminish important public assets. If pursued as NU is proposing, Northern Pass stands to cause real and permanent damage to our environment, communities and economy. Ignoring underground routes like one under active review in New York and other alternatives with similar costs, the current proposal relies on traditional, intrusive overhead technology that is vulnerable to major storms and provides no connections or market access for local power plants. Without a comprehensive energy strategy, New Hampshire lacks crucial tools that could help determine the smartest way to meet our clean energy goals, including the nature and extent of large-scale Canadian hydropower’s role in our energy future.
“New route” or not, our organizations are committed to turning back this flawed proposal, to standing up to NU’s disregard for any values other than its bottom line, and to insisting on an outcome that serves New Hampshire’s — not merely Northeast Utilities’ — best interests.
Susan Arnold is the vice president for conservation at the Appalachian Mountain Club. Christophe Courchesne is a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation.