CONCORD — A House bill that would have encouraged developers of private electric transmission projects to bury their power lines along public rights of way died in the state Senate on Thursday in a 16-8 bipartisan vote to table the measure.
The move was a big blow to opponents of the Northern Pass hydroelectric project, who have been pushing for most of the 187 miles of power lines from the Canadian border into southern New Hampshire to go underground.
The project partners have agreed to bury about eight miles of the route through the northernmost section, but have said any additional burying would be too costly.
“We’re pleased the New Hampshire Senate recognizes that HB 569 would have discouraged efforts in our state and the region to address energy challenges and secure a more reliable energy future for New Hampshire electric consumers,” said Lauren Collins, a spokesperson for Public Service of New Hampshire, one of the project sponsors.
Democratic Sen. Jeff Woodburn of Dalton, whose district encompasses many of the North Country towns affected by Northern Pass, said burial of the lines is recommended in 16 of 20 alternative routes proposed for the project, and is an innovative approach being tried in many nearby states.
“We need public policy that encourages innovation,” he said.
Supporters of the bill pointed out that it does not mandate burying the lines, but only requires the state’s Site Evaluation Committee to give preference to that approach for transmission projects not deemed essential to grid reliability.
But Manchester Democrat Lou D’Allesandro said the bill would cause job losses, discourage renewable energy projects and make it more difficult to do business in New Hampshire.
“We need jobs in New Hampshire,” he said. “We don’t need obstacles to new jobs.”
The most impassioned speaker on behalf of the legislation, Republican Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro, urged senators to consider the economic impact of the project’s transmission towers on New Hampshire residents who live along the Northern Pass route.
“If you can’t support me in this, our constituents will pay in lost property values,” he said.
The debate reflected a split in the state in which many North Country chambers of commerce and towns have gone on record against Northern Pass, while communities to the south are supporting it.
“You are a passionate advocate for your constituents,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, responding to Bradley. “But so am I, and I am concerned that my constituents will see a rise in their electric bills if (power lines) are forced underground.”
Bradley said HB 569 was the best chance for a compromise that could break the gridlock over the project. Without it, he said, “This thing will be litigated forever, and there will be no new jobs, no new source of power, no lower rates ... nothing but a lot of litigation.”