Hundreds packed the Grappone Conference Center Monday night as the Department of Energy hosted a hearing seeking public input on the Northern Pass project's revised plan to transport electricity from Canada through New Hampshire.
As with the original plan, there was no shortage of comments both for and against the hydropower project, which still faces a lengthy approval process. (See Another View by Gov. Hassan, Page A7.)"They're going to get a lot of input, but I'm optimistic that what that means is with maximum input, we're going to come up with a better plan," said state Sen. Andrew Hosmer, D-Laconia. "There's still going to be more work for them to do, clearly."
The audience was split between Northern Pass supporters wearing blue and opponents who showed up in bright orange. Although the mix appeared relatively even, speakers opposing the 1,200-megawatt Hydro-Quebec project received the loudest cheers during the first round of remarks to the DOE.
"Quebec should find another target," said Sherill Crow of Londonderry.
Hosmer said he was speaking on behalf of the city of Franklin, which is part of his district and the proposed location for Northeast Utilities to build a new converter station if the project gains approval.
"The citizens of Franklin realize compromise is essential in this process. They want this project to be sensitive to others," Hosmer said. "They understand this project had a very poor introduction to this state."
Northeast Utilities and its New Hampshire subsidiary, PSNH, hit an immediate obstacle when the original plan called for placing towers to carry the transmission lines through scenic and remote areas of the North Country.Northern Pass announced last fall a redesign in the White Mountain National Forest to reduce structure heights. The revised route calls for eight miles of underground power lines instead of using towers, but it may need to go underground for much more distance to satisfy opponents.
Bob Baker, an attorney from Columbia wearing an orange button, received one of the loudest receptions of the first 20 speakers.
"We must keep in mind, first and foremost, this project is not necessary to keep the lights on," Baker said. "It's a nice-to-have project at-best — if you ignore all the environmental impacts that it would have on this state and this region."
The DOE will compile all comments from the meetings and those submitted online as it considers material to be included in an environmental impact statement. Federal approval is needed because the project is international; even if the DOE grants the presidential permit, Northern Pass will need to clear state and local regulators.
Many of the supporters who addressed the DOE panel spoke of the jobs and economic opportunities that would come from the project. Opponents have remained skeptical about the jobs, questioning how much labor would really come from local communities and how long the work would last.
"Is this going to be just like they're going to build the towers and then everybody's unemployed again?" said Marty Vaughn, who owns a small farm and runs a disk golf course in Canterbury.
Vaughn wasn't entirely opposed to the project, but said he wants it to have more buried power lines.
"Why would you want to wreck the beautiful forests that are here without doing some kind of research to see if there is a way to get through it or around it without disturbing it? If you could do that, then I see where maybe that could be possible as long as New Hampshire makes money, too," he said.
The original scoping meetings were held in 2011 in Pembroke, Franklin, Lincoln, Whitefield, Plymouth, Colebrook, and Haverhill.
This round is necessary to discuss the revisions made to the plan.
The meetings continue this week in:
• Plymouth on Tuesday, Sept. 24, from 5 to 8 p.m. in Plymouth, at Plymouth State University, Silver Center for the Arts, Hanaway Theater, 17 High St.
• Whitefield on Wednesday, Sept. 25, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, Presidential Room, 101 Mountain View Road.
• Colebrook on Thursday, Sept. 26, 5 to 8 p.m. at the Colebrook Elementary School gymnasium.