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Kathy Sullivan: Hearings reveal true costs of Northern Pass

By KATHY SULLIVAN
May 09. 2017 10:52PM


The New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) is conducting hearings on the Northern Pass project. The developer, Connecticut-based Eversource, is facing some tough questions.

The SEC reviews and approves the development of New Hampshire energy facilities. In order to proceed with its plan to cut a 192-mile long swath of transmission towers through New Hampshire, Northern Pass needs permission from the SEC. As part of that process, the SEC is taking testimony from representatives of Eversource. The hearings are revealing issues with the project, including impacts on traffic and local businesses, as well as safety concerns.

While Eversource likes to tout the temporary construction jobs that will be required for the project, existing business owners are facing significant adverse impacts. Alex Ray, owner of The Common Man restaurants, has warned that the impact of construction traffic and road closures will be devastating. One study estimates that the town of Plymouth alone could lose 50 existing jobs. That is a big loss in a town with a population estimated at 6,902. An Eversource vice president responded by saying business owners could “file claims” for reimbursement. That does not ensure a full or even partial recovery of economic loss. Moreover, it does not help the people who work at, but do not own, businesses. What are they supposed to do?

Eversource suggested that perhaps it could do night work in Plymouth. “Perhaps” is not good enough. Eversource knows that if the project goes forward, it will disrupt traffic in downtown Plymouth. It already should have developed a plan to present to the town and business owners to review.

Then there was the testimony of Lynn Farrington, a traffic engineer for the project. She admitted that she did not analyze the possible adverse impact of construction traffic on businesses along the proposed route. It is during construction that there will be the biggest impact of workers, equipment, and road closings on traffic.

Yet Farrington stated that no traffic management plan has been written, although they will “discuss” how to minimize the impacts. It is amazing that the people wanting to build a project affecting so much of the state are providing less information on traffic impacts than a local planning board would require for a proposed Dunkin’ Donuts.

Did I mention that Eversource also disclosed that some road sections would be closed for three to five weeks during construction?

Questions also came up at the hearings about the safety record of PAR Electrical Contractors, Inc., the general contractor for the project, which is responsible for the overall management and the construction of all overhead lines, as well as the substations and transition stations. PAR, based in Houston, Texas, has been cited for eight workplace health and safety violations since 2011. It is a subsidiary of Quanta Services of Houston, which has been fined more than $1,100,000 for health, safety, and wage and hour violations since 2010.

In addition to those violations, this past March 23, the State of Alaska announced 11 citations and a total of $700,000 in possible fines against two other Quanta subsidiaries, Quanta Power Generation and Price Gregory International. These penalties are in connection with what officials said could have become a catastrophic failure at an Anchorage facility. According to news accounts, state officials said that the penalties were “considered ‘willful citations’ because the contractors showed ‘indifference’ toward workplace safety.” Ouch.

The hearings will continue. So far, they have not gone well for Eversource. The failure of this out-of-state utility behemoth to contact local New Hampshire businesses that will bear the brunt of construction and traffic impacts seems arrogant, as if such concerns are irrelevant.

Meanwhile, a competing proposal from National Grid would use existing towers for 108 of its 110 miles. There would be limited widening of existing rights of way. Based on those two facts alone, that project would be much less disruptive to New Hampshire, its people and its businesses.

While more information is needed, right now the National Grid plan, which also includes millions of dollars in fuel assistance annually to low income families, makes Northern Pass look like an even worse deal for New Hampshire.

Kathy Sullivan is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.


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