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November 13. 2012 11:19PM

Hearing to take up report on burying power lines in NH

PLYMOUTH - A commission studying the feasibility of burying future high-power transmission lines on state property seeks to extend the study another year.

The "361 Commission" will host a public hearing tonight on its report from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Performing Arts Center on Main Street in Plymouth.

Interstate 89, 93 and 95 and Route 101 between Interstates 93 and 95 are being considered for accommodating buried cable. Maine has designated its I-95 median for transmission lines and is considering a 220-mile project, Northeast Energy Link.

Tom Mullen, an opponent of Northern Pass whose Eagle's Nest development is affected by the project, said he expects many to attend the hearing who are not happy with the committee's most recent version of the report.

A first draft written by 361 Commission Chairman Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, looked for a one-year delay on any new permit for above-ground, for-profit transmission lines such as Northern Pass and no new above-ground lines until the commission's work is complete.

Forrester's version expressed concern that some current transmission proposals would use New Hampshire as a "through-path to link generation capacity located outside New Hampshire."

But the committee unanimously voted Oct. 31 for a revised draft, favored by advocates of Northern Pass. It includes no moratorium.

Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said in a written statement Tuesday: "...Credit must be given to the state agencies and members of the business community who strongly rejected the original draft report that threatened to drive up electricity prices and add layers of governmental bureaucracy. The Department of Administrative Services testified that putting lines underground should not be mandated."

Tonight's public hearing is the second of two public hearings on the commission's final report; the first was held last Thursday in Concord.

The commission is made up of legislators and department heads. It includes State Rep. Larry Rappaport, R-Colebrook, who said he is intending to file legislation to prevent future above-ground power transmission lines like those being contemplated by Northern Pass.

Also on the commission are longtime North Country economic development professional Benoit Lamontagne, now of the state Department of Economic Resources; Timothy Drew, assistant commissioner of Environmental Services; Ann Ross, general counsel to the Public Utilities Commission; and State Rep. Paul Simard, R-Bristol.

Mullen wants to see department heads recuse themselves on voting on the report because they also serve on the Site Evaluation Committee, which must eventually decide on Northern Pass and similar projects.

The Northern Pass would convey 1,200 megawatts of hydro power to New England via 85- to 130-foot transmission towers from Pittsburg to Deerfield. The project is proposed by Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec.

Michael Pillsbury, deputy commissioner of DOT and a member of the 361 Commission, said the panel did not have enough time to get a good handle on the costs of burying power lines, the effect on electric rates or the long-term economic benefit to the state of operating such a corridor.

The report reads: "... the commission believes it is incumbent upon the state of New Hampshire to take charge and formulate a state policy regarding new energy infrastructure that strikes the right balance between the benefits and burdens to New Hampshire."

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Paula Tracy may be reached at ptracy@unionleader.com.


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