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June 09. 2014 10:50PM

PSNH, forest society executives continue to seek Northern Pass deal

The new president of Public Service of New Hampshire and senior executives with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests have been meeting privately, hoping to break the impasse over the Northern Pass hydroelectric project, but that has yet to garner meaningful results.

In a letter dated June 4, society President Jane A. Difley wrote to PSNH President William Quinlan to express her frustration over what she claimed have been unsuccessful efforts to schedule follow-up meetings after the first meetings in the spring.

“To date I have had no reply,” Difley wrote. “Unfortunately Bill, that leads us to conclude that your overture on behalf of Northeast Utilities and Northern Pass was more about public relations than true interest in frank dialogue.”

The forest society has been at the forefront of efforts to kill or substantially modify the plan to import hydroelectricity from Quebec into the New England grid through New Hampshire, by purchasing land or obtaining easements to block the proposed route for the high-power transmission lines.

Soon after Quinlan was appointed president and CEO of PSNH by parent company Northeast Utilities (NU) in September of last year, he began “comprehensive outreach efforts across New Hampshire,” according to Northern Pass spokesman Lauren Collins.

That outreach apparently included the project’s arch nemesis, as Quinlan met with Difley in a “get-to-know-you” session on March 26 that led to a second meeting with staff from both sides.

The April 22 meeting included Difley with two of her senior staff members and Quinlan with two of his, according to society spokesman Jack Savage.

In the past year, the forest society has moved away from outright opposition to promoting the idea of burying the lines, if the project proves necessary.

Northern Pass partners agreed last year to bury about eight miles of the transmission lines through the northernmost parts of the state along the Canadian border.

“There was a perception on both sides that there would be follow-up,” said Savage, who was among the society representatives at the second session. “In fact, Jane did follow up (with an email on May 1), but there’s been nothing but silence since. That, in combination with hearing reports of NU suggesting that a compromise was in the works, led Jane to conclude that the meetings were more about public relations than true interest in frank dialogue.”

In a recent conference call with financial analysts, Northeast Utilities Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Lee Olivier suggested additional miles of having lines buried may be possible.

“I think even many of the opponents would agree the project is needed,” he said. “The real question is, what further do we need to do around mitigation, to ensure that we build as broad a consensus as we can around the project as we go into the siting process in New Hampshire?”

State Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said he hopes the talks continue.

“When I first met with Mr. Quinlan, I encouraged him to reach out to some of the folks that were opposing the project, and he did, to his credit,” said Bradley, who is actively supporting more burial of the lines if the project is built. “The fact that people are talking is encouraging, but I think there’s a long way to go.”

Collins said Northern Pass partners want to keep the dialogue going.

“We have met with the Forest Society as part of our comprehensive outreach efforts across New Hampshire, and we remain open to further discussions as the permitting process moves along,” she said.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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