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November 14. 2012 10:50PM

Public hearing draws support for burying NH power lines

PLYMOUTH - A public hearing on developing a state-owned underground power transmission corridor drew more than 150, many of whom urged a commission to put a moratorium on above-ground lines and develop a statewide energy policy.

The so called "361 Commission" was an outcome of legislation that took eminent domain off the table for the proposed Northern Pass project.

The commission has until Dec. 1 to report. The most recent draft of its report recommends another year of study. State Sen. Jeanie Forrester, R-Meredith, the chairman, has urged a moratorium on above-ground transmission projects.

Rick Samson of Stewartstown and John Amey of Pittsburg both thanked Forrester for her work Wednesday night and said they favored a moratorium.

"Take a year, take five..." Amey said.

Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, applauded the panel's work and said he was speaking for several conservation groups when he suggested:

-- The Department of Transportation continue to explore underground transmission using Interstates, 93, 89, 95 and Route 101 between Interstates 93 and 95.

-- That DOT explore what, if any, rail corridors should be considered for use.

-- That the state's Site Evaluation Committee have an added statute that would ask any new applicants to propose an underground alternative.

-- Set up a governor's task force on the issue.

-- Acknowledge that several representatives on the committee are SEC members and this might prejudge their statutory obligations to vote on future projects.

Savage's recommendations were also signed by officials of the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Nature Conservancy and Conservation NH.

Maine has already designated the median of Interstate 95 for an underground corridor and has a potential customer, Northeast Energy Link. NEL would run 220 miles of underground cable carrying renewable power to the New England grid.

The project has been compared to the Northern Pass, a $1.2 billion, 180-mile hydro-power transmission line from Canada to Deerfield.

But that above-ground line would use towers ranging in height from 80 to 135 feet high.

While he was not present at the hearing, Marc Goldberg, spokesman for Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan said Wednesday afternoon that Hassan believes that burying the lines would be a more appropriate approach for Northern Pass.

Martin Murray, spokesman for Northern Pass, said, "The project supports the effort to identify potentially viable corridor options for future energy projects. We also appreciate that the commission strongly rejected the original report recommendations that threatened broader and costly consequences for consumers and businesses in the state. Placing utility lines underground ought to be an option, but no mandated. There is no need in New Hampshire for more mandates, or for more costly layers ofbureaucracy."

David Van Hotten of Bethlehem said it is important to consider what burying the power lines might mean in terms of unintended consequences; he alluded to electromagnetic fields.

Ann Hawthorne of Lancaster said residents are relying on the commission to force future projects to be buried, and that the costs should be borne by ratepayers who benefit from its transmission.

Suzanne Smith, a state representative from the Plymouth area, said she supports burying the line.

Julie Moran of Colebrook asked if the commission could lead to an energy policy that would allow for local development of power.

Debbie Warner of Littleton said she asked people what they liked about the North Country this year, and they talked about the area "as a family member."

She asked that a moratorium on above-ground lines be put in place until the commission's study is concluded.

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


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