October 14. 2013 5:04PM

Sandi Hennequin: DOE should suspend Northern Pass permit application


The U.S. Department of Energy recently held scoping hearings across New Hampshire on the troubled and controversial Northern Pass transmission project. At the hearing in Concord, the New England Power Generators Association (NEPGA) explained why the Northern Pass application for a Presidential Permit should be suspended from further consideration.

Northern Pass is a proposed private 187-mile transmission line to bring power from Quebec through New Hampshire to serve electric needs of Connecticut and Massachusetts. To do this, it must be granted a Presidential Permit to cross the U.S. border.

The amended application Northern Pass filed last summer is not complete. The project doesn’t have necessary site control. It does not even offer a feasible alternative if it does not obtain site control of its preferred route. The pending application misrepresents the project’s likely impacts, uses outdated and inaccurate data and fails to provide necessary information. In particular, the application misrepresents three key areas.

• Costs: Northern Pass asserted three years ago that it will lead to annual reductions of $206 million to $327 million in wholesale electricity prices. The industry has dramatically changed since then, with the predominance of low-cost shale gas reserves on New England’s doorstep. NEPGA’s own updated study found that any estimated energy benefits should be lowered by 50 percent.

Northern Pass also makes the assumption that Hydro-Quebec will maximize its full export capability into New England. This is contradicted by the fact that Quebec recently completed a major new export line to Ontario and received necessary state approvals for a Northern Pass-like line into New York. Hydro-Quebec will identify where it can sell its power at the highest price and shift its exports accordingly.

• Jobs: Northern Pass overstates job impacts and promises 1,200 New Hampshire jobs. PolEcon Research, a Dover-based economic consulting firm conducted a 2012 analysis of the Northern Pass jobs study, concluding that there would be at most 533 jobs in year two of project construction and 241 jobs in year one.

PolEcon also found that the New Hampshire economy lacks the required business inputs or specialized labor to complete the project, creating a need to largely rely upon out-of-state businesses and labor. In the current economic environment, job creation clearly should not be viewed negatively. But it also should not be overstated to win support for a controversial project.

• Reliability: Northern Pass mischaracterizes its project as needed for reliability purposes while not identifying its own transmission-related reliability issues. It fails to mention the 1998 ice storm that left 3 million people in 200 Quebec towns without electricity, some for many weeks. It doesn’t mention Quebec forest fires last summer that led to a loss of New England load representing about 8 percent of the region’s peak load and causing frequency disturbances as far south as Florida. It also doesn’t mention an August lightning strike in Churchill Falls that caused power losses to 400,000 Montreal customers.

All aspects of the reliability issue must be examined as part of the Presidential Permit application, including the reliability impacts for our region from relying on more power over a long-distance transmission line from an area with a significant history of transmission-related problems. Further, the Independent System Operator New England, the region’s electric grid manager, has repeatedly said publicly that this project is not needed for electric system reliability.

The New England State Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) recently released a Black & Veatch study recommending solutions to any concerns of natural gas dependence for electricity generation. Black & Veatch evaluated three options, including two approaches to importing electricity from Canada and a new major gas pipeline across New England. The report recommended a cross-regional natural gas pipeline, noting that it provides bigger benefits to consumers and better supports electric reliability than alternative long-term solutions.

The Northern Pass project has been controversial since its announcement several years ago. No amount of advertising can disguise that this project is not ready for prime time. Given the misrepresentations in the amended application and the fact that the project has not reached the minimum threshold of attaining meaningful site control, the U.S. Department of Energy should suspend its process to consider the granting of a Presidential Permit to Northern Pass.

Sandi Hennequin of Portsmouth is vice president of the New England Power Generators Association.