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SEC: Northern Pass would create 'negative impact' on nearby land use

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 30. 2018 6:59PM
During a bus tour in October, members of the state Site Evaluation Committee, intervenors and others view a stretch of utility right-of-way in Concord where the Northern Pass transmission project would run. (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER FILE PHOTO)

CONCORD -- The proposed Northern Pass hydroelectric transmission project would have a “negative impact” on land use and would deliver fewer financial benefits than promised, according to a state committee’s decision.

“Given the nature of the master plans and local ordinances along the project’s route, the project would have a large and negative impact on land uses in many communities that make up the region affected by the project,” wrote the state Site Evaluation Committee.

The committee had unanimously rejected the $1.6 billion project Feb. 1 and on Friday released a 287-page written decision summarizing the evidence and explaining its reasoning after 70 days of hearings, 2,176 exhibits and testimony by 154 witnesses.

The 192-mile Northern Pass route includes 60 miles underground.

The committee said 30 of 32 municipalities along the route stated the project would interfere with the region’s orderly development.

“There are places along the route where the project would have a substantially different effect on the neighborhood than does the existing transmission facilities,” the decision said.

“In many of the smaller rural communities along the route, transmission towers that currently sit below the tree canopy would be augmented by towers that range from 80 to 140 feet tall,” the committee said.

Project officials have said the project would deliver tens of millions of dollars in yearly property taxes as well as more than $60 million a year in energy savings for New Hampshire.

“While benefits to the economy and employment would be positive, we cannot find they would be as large as the applicant predicts,” the committee said.

It also called a Northern Pass expert’s estimates on the number of new jobs created after construction “overinflated.”

Northern Pass and other intervenors now have 30 days to file a request for the committee to reopen its deliberations. The committee’s attorney has said the committee wouldn’t likely act on such requests until May.

Northern Pass attorneys plan to file a motion for rehearing just as it did within 30 days of the committee’s Feb. 1 decision, but the committee in March put off hearing that request.

“We will take the time necessary to carefully review the order, and expect to soon be filing a motion for rehearing,” said project spokesman Martin Murray. “As we’ve stated previously, the SEC’s decision-making process failed to comply with New Hampshire law and did not reflect the substantial evidence on the record.”

Northern Pass officials were critical of committee members for not deliberating on all four criteria needed to issue a needed certificate to begin construction.

The committee said its vote -- concluding Northern Pass didn’t meet its burden in showing the project wouldn’t unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region -- meant it couldn’t grant a certificate.

“There is, therefore, no need to go further,” the decision said.

Northern Pass officials also criticized the committee for not considering imposing conditions that could have green-lighted the project.

The committee didn’t find a Northern Pass real estate expert credible in saying there “would be no discernible effect on property value.

“The applicant’s proposed compensation plan was, quite plainly, inadequate, but because the applicant’s analysis of the effects was also inadequate, it was impossible for us to even begin to consider what an appropriate compensation plan might require,” the committee said.

Project foe Jack Savage with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said Northern Pass shouldn’t get a second chance.

“Even a preliminary reading of the decision to deny Northern Pass reveals the extent to which Eversource failed to make their case under the law,” he said.

The written decision’s release came a day after Massachusetts regulators announced that Massachusetts power companies were dropping the Northern Pass project to provide clean power to their Bay State customers. That deal would have given Northern Pass a guaranteed buyer for its power for a negotiated price for 20 years.

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