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Site Evaluation Committee pushes back Northern Pass deadline to September 2017

Union Leader Correspondent

May 19. 2016 10:17PM
As the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee conducted a motions hearing on the application of the Northern Pass energy transmission project Thursday at the Mountain View Grand Hotel in Whitefield, Rob Christie, of Lancaster and Houston, worked on a “ditty bag,” which he explained is a tool bag for sailors, that he will give his daughter, Margaret, who will soon graduate from Wellesley College. Although not an intervenor, Christie has attended numerous hearings on the Northern Pass, because, he explained, “It's going to run right past my property.” (John Koziol)

WHITEFIELD — Agreeing with Northern Pass opponents that they haven’t had enough time to prepare a comprehensive response, a subcommittee of the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee on Thursday pushed back the final deadline for action on the electrical transmission project to Sept. 30, 2017.

Until as recently as this month, Eversource expected to get final state and federal permitting by the end of the year and to begin construction on the 192-mile long line in January.

On May 4 at the Mountain View Grand Hotel, Bill Quinlan, president of Eversource operations in New Hampshire, told potential contractors on the $1.6 billion project, that he anticipated work to begin “immediately” and for the line to be operational by May of 2019. Thursday, the NH SEC put a decided crimp in the company’s timeframe.

Beginning in Pittsburg and ending in Deerfield, the Northern Pass would bring 1,090 megawatts of hydro-electricity supplied by Hydro-Quebec into the New England power grid.

Eversource has said Northern Pass would provide clean, renewable energy; reduce electricity rates; and would boost the state and, in particular, the North Country’s economy, through its $200 million Forward NH Fund.

Northern Pass has met stiff opposition, with critics saying it is unnecessary and would destroy views and property values. Eversource has proposed burying about 60 miles of the Northern Pass, most of it through the White Mountain National Forest, but attendees at numerous public hearings in recent months say all of it should be placed underground.

Scores of intervenors, both in favor and against Northern Pass, have been recognized by the NH SEC to weigh in on Eversource’s Northern Pass application and some, including the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests, have also filed motions regarding the permitting process.

Under the law that governs the SEC, the forest society, citing the public interest, filed a motion for the body to suspend its timeframe and the SEC members assented to the request by unanimous voice vote.

Jack Savage, spokesman for the forest society, praised the action.

“We applaud the SEC subcommittee’s decision to extend the timeframe to consider the Northern Pass application. It will improve the process. Taking an appropriate amount of time to consider all of the impacts a 192-mile transmission line would have on New Hampshire makes sense.”

The forest society’s position was supported by several fellow intervenors who pointed out that the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Service had just made public a report on the Northern Pass that they had not had been yet able to review.

Public Utilities Commissioner Kathryn M. Bailey got Eversource Attorney Barry Needleman to concede that it took more than six months to put together the Northern Pass application.

But while agreeing that “this is a big project, this is a complicated project,” and one that places a “burden” on the SEC and intervenors, Needleman nonetheless argued that the process be allowed to move forward. He pointed out that his research found that the SEC had never suspended deliberations as early as it was considering to do with the Northern Pass application, adding that he also doubted whether the body had the authority.

Martin Honigberg, the chair of the SEC, said that as an attorney it has been his experience that a schedule “always slides,” but what was “equally frustrating,” he continued, is when “an unrealistic schedule was set.”

It wasn’t realistic that the SEC would complete its work in 2016, but Sept. 30, 2017 “was probably the right date,” said Honigberg, and one that wouldn’t have to be moved.

In a prepared statement, Quinlan said Eversource is “evaluating our options for seeking reconsideration.”

He called the SEC vote “disappointing,” saying it would “only delay the realization of the substantial benefits of this project in New Hampshire and throughout New England.”

Rob Christie, who lives on Mount Prospect Road in Lancaster, hailed the extension.

He said he wants regular citizens to be “on an equal footing” with giant corporations before the SEC.

“I’m here as a ratepayer, a taxpayer and a man who’s going to have to look at these towers,” said Christie, who said if Northern Pass is approved, all of it should have to be buried underground.

Energy Whitefield

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