In 2010 Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec proposed a new 180-mile overhead transmission line they call Northern Pass, with new towers well above tree line through two-thirds of New Hampshire. After reviewing what was presented by the developers, the Forest Society’s Board of Trustees voted to oppose the project as proposed. A recent amendment by Northern Pass, LLC, to its original proposal tinkers at the edges of a deeply flawed project that has failed to acquire a legal contiguous route.
We believe today, as we did then, that this proposal threatens our scenic landscapes and existing conserved lands, including the White Mountain National Forest, our own forest reservations, and dozens of other lands protected by other organizations. This is unacceptable.
Our position accepts that there may be reason to consider allowing Hydro-Quebec to export additional power in the future. There is already one 2000 megawatt line from Hydro-Quebec that runs through New Hampshire to Massachusetts, bringing electricity to the New England grid. This line is presently not used to its capacity. The Forest Society, along with many others, has consistently pointed to other viable alternatives for transmission of more electricity from Quebec to southern New England where the demand for this power may some day exist. But today the power is not needed to keep the lights on in New England, and today New Hampshire is a large net exporter of electricity to the rest of New England.
After nearly three years of debate, widespread public opposition, and repeated efforts by Northern Pass to manufacture public benefits, the Forest Society believes today that if the Northern Pass transmission line is to be built at all it should be buried — from beginning to end — preferably along existing state-owned transportation corridors such as state highways and rail beds. This option addresses most of the objections that so many New Hampshire landowners rightfully share while presenting the opportunity for the state to realize much-needed revenues through the leasing of those underground corridors.
To be sure, there are still serious questions about the wisdom of allowing Hydro-Quebec yet another tentacle into our region. We should consider carefully the consequences of enabling the vast flooding of forests in Quebec, and be particularly skeptical of the carbon reduction claims. Energy flowing south means dollars flowing north, and has the potential to undermine regional energy conservation and the development of home-grown renewable power generation. A study of the “no-build” option — or what would happen if Northern Pass is never built — is warranted.
Northeast Utilities and subsidiary PSNH, for their part, have acknowledged that burial is possible; in fact they have now proposed to bury eight miles, or four percent, of their now 187-mile line. But they have complained mightily about the additional cost — even though it is Hydro-Quebec that would foot the bill (as it should, for Northern Pass is a private line for their exclusive use). The implicit suggestion from Northeast Utilities and Hydro-Quebec is that carring New Hampshire’s landscapes is an acceptable subsidy to their bottom line.
For an underground alternative to become a reality, New Hampshire must act. First, we must demand that at least one underground alternative be included as part of the Department of Energy’s Environmental Impact Statement, which will inform all the required permitting for Northern Pass. Second, we must enable the state Site Evaluation Committee to require an underground option. Third, the state must act now to fast-track the responsible use of existing transportation corridors for transmission developers. We call on our state leaders to make this a priority today. New Hampshire should determine its own future and make the better option into the easier option.
In New Hampshire we cherish our natural landscape and the economy it supports. We must defend ourselves from those who would sacrifice those values for their own profit. We do that by not only making the right choices, but by making the right choices easy.
Jane A. Difley is president and forester, and Carolyn Benthien is chair of the board of trustees of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.