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NH congressional delegation wants to know Northern Pass’ alternative routes

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 14. 2014 7:07PM

All four members of the New Hampshire congressional delegation on Monday reiterated their request to the U.S. Department of Energy for disclosure of the alternative routes that will be considered as part of the Northern Pass environmental impact statement.

The state’s two senators and two representatives first asked for the disclosure in September, two months after Northern Pass partners, which include Public Service of New Hampshire, revealed their proposed route for the power lines that would bring 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Quebec into New England.

The plan calls for about eight miles of the line to be buried along roadways in the northernmost section of the state.

The application to the Department of Energy submitted by Northern Pass on July 1 contains a description of an alternative route that would require an easement through the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Conservation Area.

Department of Energy Assistant Secretary Patricia Hoffman responded to the initial congressional request by saying the DOE would “consider the value and utility of such a report as the (review) process for the Northern Pass project progresses.”

That wasn’t good enough for the four lawmakers who in their Jan. 13 letter said they were, “writing to strongly reiterate our request that before proceeding to complete a draft Environmental Impact Study, the DOE provide the public with a preliminary report detailing which alternative routes will be studied as part of the EIS.”

The consideration of alteratives is an important part of the process leading to the presidential permit allowing Northern Pass to import energy from another country.

Opponents of the current plans for the project oppose any crossing through the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Conservation Area and have suggested that more of the line be buried.

“Given the public’s immense interest in studying alternatives, we are compelled to emphasize and renew our request that DOE provide a preliminary report detailing which alternatives will be studied, and that this report is made public prior to the completion of the draft EIS study,” wrote the state’s delegation in a letter signed by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster.

In its July application, Northern Pass partners dismissed burying more of the line, and other alternatives, as “suffering from some combination of significant technical, economic, legal, environmental and practical challenges that would result in abandonment of the project.”

Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said the question of which alternatives the DOE is willing to consider will be a significant factor in the permitting process.

“We’re pleased to see that the delegation is working to protect New Hampshire’s interests in the federal regulatory process,” he said. “Given that Northern Pass has made it abundantly clear that they are only interested in pursuing an alternative that best suits their interests, the alternatives that DOE includes in the Environmental Impact Study are important.”

The environmental impact statement developed by the DOE would be used in New Hampshire’s own permitting decision-making, said Savage. “Should Northern Pass ever get that far, those alternatives are critical,” he said. “In particular, we feel that burial along transportation corridors should be considered.”

The DOE is required to review the feasibility of alternate routes as part of its EIS study, but is not required to disclose the alternatives prior to releasing the study.

“The permitting of projects like Northern Pass is a comprehensive and detailed process,” said Lauren Collins, a spokesperson for Northern Pass. “The DOE’s draft Environmental Impact Statement is expected later this year. Meantime, the public permitting process continues. Northern Pass has already secured a key approval from the region’s grid operator, ISO-NE, and we look forward to working with New Hampshire communities and other stakeholders as we move ahead in 2014.”

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