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August 06. 2013 9:40PM

Northern Pass shadow hangs over discussion of rules for buried transmission lines

CONCORD — A legislative committee Tuesday explored the intricacies of electric transmission systems and if they can be buried in state highway and railway right-of-ways.

A sub-committee of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee is reviewing three bills that would have utilities bury transmission lines.

Although committee Chairman Laurence Rappaport, R-Colebrook, told committee members the work session was not about the Northern Pass transmission project, much of the discussion concerned the high-voltage transmission line from the Canadian border to Deerfield to bring HydroQuebec electricity to New England.

Several members of the committee wondered if the legislation is premature and should wait until a commission recently appointed to develop a state energy policy completes its work.

"It seems to me this would be taking a major step before the energy plan is out," said Rep. Jacqueline Cali-Pitts, D-Portsmouth.

But Rappaport, who sponsored two of the bills, said the committee can do a report that could be used as the commission develops the 10-year plan.

The three bills the committee is studying all require some transmission lines to be buried.

Rep. James Devine, R-Sandown, said lawmakers need to leave the decisions to the developers of transmission projects.

He noted Public Service of New Hampshire built a $480 million scrubber to remove emissions from the Merrimack Station power plant in Bow and that cost will be passed on to consumers.

"We ought to back off and leave this alone," Devine said.

Will Abbott of the Society for the Protection of NH Forests said current state law is inadequate in addressing issues like those associated with the Northern Pass transmission project.

"Is it good public policy for the state to protect the natural landscape of New Hampshire from the degradation of utility development?" Abbott asked. "We think it is. We don't want our children asking us 25 years from now 'Why didn't you do something.'"

The committee is to hear from officials of the regional electric system operator and PSNH as well as developers of a Maine transmission line that will be entirely buried.

The committee has to make a report by Dec. 1 to suggest legislation for next year, or to kill the bills.

grayno@unionleader.com


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