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Feds Release Northern Pass Report: Burial of Transmission Line to Cost Up to $2.1 Billion

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Concord — A complete burial of the Northern Pass transmission line would nearly double the project’s cost, but reduce potential negative impacts on the environment, tourism and local property values, according to a draft report released by the U.S. Department of Energy Tuesday.

As proposed, Northern Pass plans to run an electric transmission line 187 miles through New Hampshire to bring Canadian hydropower to the New England power grid.

On Tuesday, the DOE released the long-awaited draft environmental impact statement, a major component of the federal review that evaluates the proposed Northern Pass route and nine alternative options that all bury more of the line.

While the proposed Northern Pass project — made up primarily of overhead lines strung between Pittsburg, N.H., and Deerfield, N.H. — would be the cheapest option at roughly $1.02 billion, it would also pose the greatest environmental and visual impact, the report says.

The visual impact, which includes “large industrial-appearing lattice structures,” could negatively impact New Hampshire’s tourism and recreation, the report says. And the proposed overhead route likely would cause the largest drop in residential property values and have the least economic tax benefit to host communities.

Every alternative route the DOE studied in the Environmental Impact Statement calls for further burial of the transmission line.

The Northern Pass needs both federal and state approval, and the draft environmental statement is just one step in a larger permitting process.

But, project officials likely will use the DOE recommendations to tweak the proposed route, which has become a source of controversy.

Supporters say the project is necessary to help diversify the region’s power supply, which has grown increasingly reliant on natural gas. But Northern Pass has run into fierce opposition from area landowners and environmentalists who say the overhead transmission lines and tall towers will mar the state’s natural landscape.

Northern Pass officials have indicated they will announce a finalized route in the coming weeks — one that some expect to include further burial — and will then begin the state permitting process.

The report issued Tuesday didn’t pick one route over another, but laid out the benefits and drawbacks of each option.

Four of the alternatives call for a complete burial of the transmission line. Another calls for partial burial beneath Interstate 93 through Franconia Notch, or along Routes 112 and 116 through the White Mountain National Forrest.

Five call for burial along existing roads and highways, options with the least environmental impact, the report says. All of the underground alternatives carry the highest costs, ranging from $1.83 billion to $2.11 billion.

Putting the line underground, as opposed to overhead, lessens the impact on tourism, recreation, historic resources and the environment, the review says.

Burying the line requires less vegetation removal and has fewer effects on wildlife, including protected species. The buried lines are less susceptible than the overhead lines to damage from extreme weather. 

But, the report says, blasting during construction would generate more noise than putting the lines overhead. And burial of the line would increase the potential for erosion.

Construction of the overhead line would generate fewer short-term and permanent jobs than an underground alternative, the report says.

A project official said Tuesday the company is pleased with the report that he said validates Northern Pass is the right project for New Hampshire.

“Moreover, the DOE recognizes that the project must strike an appropriate balance between project cost, impact and benefits,” said Martin Murray, a spokesman for Eversource Energy, which is a project partner. “This echoes what we have been hearing over the last year from the many New Hampshire citizens we’ve spoken to.”

State lawmakers said Tuesday they are pleased to see the DOE evaluating options that send more of the transmission line underground.

As currently proposed, the Northern Pass transmission line would travel 153 miles from Pittsburg to a converter station in Franklin, N.H. From there, 34 miles of overhead lines would run to a substation in Deerfield. Roughly eight miles would be buried through Clarkesville, N.H..

“The more the transmission line gets buried, the less of an impact it’s going to have on the environment and people’s property,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican. “That being said, I have never said it needs to be buried all 187 miles. It’s a balance.”

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan “remains opposed to the initial Northern Pass project as proposed and continues to believe that the project must fully investigate burying more sections of the lines,” said spokesman William Hinkle in a statement. “She will continue to encourage the company to listen to the concerns of Granite Staters, and if it is going to move forward, propose something that ensures lower costs for New Hampshire ratepayers and that protects our scenic views and beautiful natural resources, which are critical to our economy.”

The public has 90 days to comment on the draft environmental impact statement, double the typical 45-day allowance. The DOE will take the comments into account before it issues a final presidential permit, which the project needs because it crosses an international border.

Northern Pass, a partnership between Eversource Energy and Hydro-Quebec, also needs state approval from the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee. The project has yet to launch that application process, but that will be the focus moving forward, Murray said.

“Our intention now is to bring to the NH Site Evaluation Committee a proposal which strikes the necessary balance and that will be broadly supported.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @amorrisNH.)

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