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Kathy Sullivan: Northern Pass is not ready for prime time

September 12. 2017 12:32AM

For the last five months, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee has been holding hearings on the Northern Pass project, the proposal to run a 192-mile, $1.6 billion-and-climbing transmission line, through the heart of our state. Next year, the SEC will decide whether to approve the project, approve it with conditions, or reject it as not in the public interest.

The SEC had a deadline of Dec. 18, 2017, but pushed the date back to March 31, 2018. During the discussion on the extension, the attorney for Eversource agreed that an extension was necessary. That did not stop Eversource from launching a barrage of criticism at the SEC.

In light of recent Department of Transportation findings, however, it is pretty clear that Northern Pass is not ready for prime time. Northern Pass has been found to have submitted inaccurate plans for parts of the route, and DOT is now wondering about the accuracy of plans for the entire 192 miles. In addition, as the Union Leader reported last week, “errors and inaccuracies in Northern Pass route details are making the review take longer and diverting resources from routine highway maintenance and other DOT projects...”

In other words, because Northern Pass has been sloppy, the rest of us will have to put up with infrastructure delays. Yet Northern Pass is complaining about the SEC hearing process?

The hearings have focused mostly on project details: The impact on the White Mountain National Forest, the tourism industry, the 165-foot towers proposed for Concord, and the property interests of homeowners and small businesses along the route. However, there is another issue that is being overlooked, the shovel-ready TDI project proposed to run through Vermont.

While Granite Staters have been debating whether Northern Pass is a bad idea, the Transmission Developers Incorporated project has obtained all of its state and federal permits, unlike Northern Pass.

It will deliver the same amount of electricity into the New England regional grid, without any destructive impact on New Hampshire. Since both projects have identical cost estimates, any impact on electric rates would be identical as well.

TDI did come up briefly in the hearings. After attempting to duck questions on the subject, the economist hired by Northern Pass admitted that the claimed economic benefits of Northern Pass would largely disappear if a project like TDI were built first.

Why would New Hampshire ever approve the controversial, destructive, ill-planned Northern Pass when there is a better, fully-permitted option next door? And why, if there is a better proposal with no downside to New Hampshire, do so many decision makers here act as if Northern Pass is the only option?

Maybe it is because Eversource, the driving force behind Northern Pass, has an advantage built from decades of political contributions and armies of lawyers, lobbyists, and consultants. Eversource’s home field advantage in some arenas comes pretty close to outright rigging of the process. In addition to the SEC process, another proceeding critical to Northern Pass is taking place in Massachusetts, the renewable energy procurement known as the Massachusetts RFP. This is a statutorily-mandated purchase of 9.45 million megawatts of renewable energy over 20 years. Winning this RFP is essential for Eversource to go forward with Northern Pass. While that process should be competitive, fair and impartial, the selection committee is dominated by Eversource employees.

The Eversource employees preparing the Northern Pass Massachusetts RFP bid aren’t supposed to talk to the Eversource employees judging the Massachusetts bids, but they both report to the same management. It will be interesting to see how the Eversource RFP judges score the Eversource Northern Pass bid.

Here in New Hampshire, the SEC has two reasonable options concerning Northern Pass. The SEC could approve the project, but require the complete burial of the line. Vermont officials thought their environment was important enough to demand burial of the TDI line. Why does New Hampshire deserve less?

Or the SEC can deny approval of the Northern Pass project outright. There is ample reason to do so. Plus, with the TDI project shovel ready, there is no need for Northern Pass.

The SEC should recognize that fact, and reject Northern Pass as not in the public interest.

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

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