Feds to study about two dozen possible Northern Pass routes
The U.S. Department of Energy will review about two dozen alternatives for the proposed Northern Pass project, including burying power lines under waterways or roads or connecting with transmission lines in neighboring states.
The federal agency will study the controversial project and "the range of reasonable alternatives," including whether to bury some or all of the high-voltage transmission electric lines across the state, and also will evaluate a no-build scenario, according to a 22-page addendum report released last week.
Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said he was pleased the department was looking at various underground options.
"The number of different variations on the burial (of transmission lines) suggest they are looking at analyzing viable burial alternatives, and I think that is good news for those in the state who are accepting of the power but don't want to see towers overhead," Savage, a project critic, said Saturday. "I think that tells us this thing is heading underground if it's going to be permitted."
The $1.4 billion Northern Pass project would bring 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Quebec into the New England power grid through New Hampshire over a new 187-mile transmission line, most of which would be built within existing Public Service of New Hampshire transmission rights of way where power lines exist today. A new 32.25-mile right of way and two sections of underground construction, totaling about eight miles, are part of the 187 miles. The project is expected to be in service in mid-2017, according to Northern Pass.Burying lines along the entire route, Northern Pass has said, would be too expensive.
The federal government's action is part of a mandated process to decide whether to issue a required presidential permit to allow for constructing, operating, maintaining and connecting facilities at the U.S.-Canada border to transmit energy between the United States and a foreign country.
The department's draft environmental impact statement is due out late this year. The state's congressional delegation had pushed for the Department of Energy to release the list of alternative routes to be studied.
Northern Pass spokeswoman Lauren Collins welcomed the development.
"The release of this addendum by the U.S. Department of Energy marks another important step in the careful and thorough permitting process of the Northern Pass project," Collins said. "This document helps to ensure the DOE environmental review currently underway is transparent and the assessment of project route alternatives is vigorous. We look forward to the DOE's forthcoming draft environmental impact statement - given the acute need New Hampshire and the region have for new and diverse sources of clean energy."
The alternatives include:
-- Constructing an underground transmission line for the entire length that would be generally located with Northern Pass' preferred route.
-- Burying lines under or adjacent to existing state and federal roads, except for a small northern portion from the border crossing in Pittsburg to Route 3 in Clarksville.
-- Offering alternative burial routes through the White Mountain National Forest to respond to visual and resource impacts.
-- Burying transmission lines under or adjacent to existing roads for about 147 miles from the Canadian border crossing to the proposed Franklin converter station and constructing overhead alternating-current transmission lines from Franklin to a substation in Deerfield. Height restrictions near the Concord Airport would require separate sets of shorter towers.
-- Burying lines under or adjacent to existing roads and railroad corridors for nearly the entire length.
-- Locating the project in the existing right of way belonging to National Grid in Vermont and New Hampshire.
-- Adding power capacity to projects in neighboring states or merging Northern Pass' proposed project with one of the projects in nearby states.
-- Submerging the project in navigable waterways.
-- Hanging lines overhead within transportation rights of way, including roads and railways.
Savage said the report also said the department would look at a Deerfield location as an alternative site to one in Franklin to convert direct current to alternating current.
Northern Pass said the cheaper hydro power would save New Hampshire electric users between $20 million and $35 million a year.
Christophe Courchesne, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, a project opponent, noted in a blog post that the report didn't detail to what extent the department would research each alternative.
"The most encouraging aspect of the report is that DOE seems to have made a serious effort to identify and map underground alternatives to Northern Pass," Courchesne said.
Gov. Maggie Hassan said many questions remain about what impacts the project would have on the White Mountain National Forest and local communities.
"I am encouraged that the U.S. Department of Energy has heard the concerns of New Hampshire citizens and has agreed to examine a wide range of options on the proposed Northern Pass project, including several underground options," Hassan said. "The people of New Hampshire deserve a transparent, thorough and rigorous review of the proposed routes, as well as a serious examination of alternatives."