CONCORD — A committee member considering the Northern Pass project recited several potential economic benefits Wednesday, including at least 1,000 construction jobs, an annual $84 million boost in the state gross domestic product and millions in yearly power savings.
“That really doesn’t sound too bad, so what am I missing here?” William Oldenburg asked a witness at the Site Evaluation Committee hearing. “This isn’t a negative, is it?”
“No, there’s lots of positives in it,” said Thomas Kavet, co-founder of Kavet, Rockler & Associates, a Vermont firm that conducted an economic analysis. “It’s really important to understand there’s a lot of positives in it and there are some negatives, too.”
It’s likely not until at least February that the committee will deliberate in public on whether to approve the proposed $1.6 billion project, which runs through more than 30 communities. The project needs several state and federal approvals before it can start operating by late 2020.
The route runs from Pittsburg to Deerfield and includes 60 miles of buried lines. The Site Evaluation Committee said it hopes to issue a verbal decision by late February and a written one by late March.
The website for Northern Pass projects 2,600 construction jobs.
Kavet came under fire Wednesday for estimating that Northern Pass could hurt state tourism by $2.4 million to as much as $12 million a year.
Kavet, while working for three proposed Vermont wind projects, wrote that estimating tourism impacts were difficult if not impossible to quantify because there were no empirical studies measuring the potential tourism harm from other power projects.
“Why is it impossible to do that without empirical data there, but suddenly it’s possible to do it here (for Northern Pass) without empirical data?” said Eversource attorney Barry Needleman.
“I think it’s difficult but not impossible,” said Kavet, a witness for the counsel for the public, which represents the public’s interests and hasn’t taken a position.
Kavet said it would be difficult to develop figures on potential tourism harm both for the Vermont projects and with Northern Pass.
“So you are changing the testimony now that you offered in those other cases?” Needleman said.
“That’s right,” Kavet said.
Kavet’s study said total 2015 tourism spending in New Hampshire totaled an estimated $5.5 billion with about $79 million of that total, or 1.5 percent, occurring within the potential impact area. He calculated a range of 3 to 15 percent potential harm, figures he got from a few people with expertise in state tourism who estimated that tourism visitation and spending could decrease by at least 3 to 10 percent and possibly as much as 15 percent.
Needleman also pointed out work Kavet did on a proposed power transmission project in Vermont. Kavet concluded that project would have minimal impacts on tourism, but Northern Pass would impact tourism here negatively, according to Needleman.
Vermont project officials, Kavet said Wednesday, worked with municipalities and towns and changed the route to minimize impacts.
“That’s not what I’ve experienced with this particular project,” he said.