MANCHESTER - Northern Pass officials are willing to take more steps to reduce concerns about the visual impact of power lines and poles in the North Country as part of an effort to win broader statewide support, according to the top executive at Public Service of New Hampshire.
"The issue of aesthetics and view shed, it's certainly a real issue," William Quinlan, PSNH's president and chief operating officer, said in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader last week.
"We are looking at options for dealing with some of the view impacts," Quinlan said. "It doesn't necessarily extend all the way to burial (of power lines). There are certain things you can do to mitigate impacts of a transmission line. You could use a different tower design, which is less intrusive. You could lower the tower height below the tree line."
The controversial Northern Pass project carries a $1.4 billion price tag and 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 PSNH 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 2017, according to Northern Pass.
PSNH and Northern Pass Transmission LLC, which would own all of the Northern Pass transmission lines and facilities in New Hampshire, share the same corporate parent, Northeast Utilities. Northeast Utilities has an agreement with HydroQuebec for it to lease the Northern Pass transmission lines.
Dave Atkinson, a board member of a Northern Pass job creation fund who also works at A.B. Logging Inc. in Lancaster, said the general negative attitude about Northern Pass has improved in the past year, though is "still probably slanted to the negative.""If there was a mistake made ... there was a rollout without any forethought of what the local people would think," said Atkinson, a former executive at
Wausau Paper Co. mill in Groveton, which closed in 2007. In the past six months or so, "PSNH and Northeast Utilities and Bill and his team continue to listen and make adjustments based upon feedback as it comes."
Jack Savage, spokesman for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said what Quinlan is "attempting to do is find out whether there's a compromise that enough parties could live with to allow the Northern Pass project to go forward."
Quinlan calls it "a good opportunity for us to take the temperature of all the stakeholders and understand where all the issues are and try to resolve them."
The U.S. Department of Energy is reviewing about two dozen alternatives for the proposed project, including burying power lines under waterways or roads or connecting with transmission lines in neighboring states."Whether or not there's a compromise depends on Northeast Utilities' appetite for burial," Savage said.
But Quinlan said complete burial of the lines is not likely.
"Burial is a very expensive undertaking and really in the industry has been used quite selectively," he said.
Quinlan said officials are working on reaching a power purchase agreement that would give New Hampshire customers a break on their electric bill for running the high-voltage transmission lines through the state.
A study for PSNH said the project would save electric customers between $20 million and $35 million a year, with Quinlan favoring the top end of that estimate. The study said the project also would bring an estimated $28 million in new local, state and county tax revenues yearly.
Quinlan called the proposed project a balancing act among cost, technology and acceptance.
"I'm trying to find that sweet spot," he said. "We're not going to go forward with a project that New Hampshire doesn't support as a practical matter."
"The ultimate determiner of that in New Hampshire is the (New Hampshire) Site Evaluation Committee, so I think that's the process we'll work through," he said. An application is expected to be filed with the committee in January 2015.
"My goal is to increase significantly the support behind this project before we ever file an application by addressing some of the issues and concerns that we've heard," he said. "That's what I'm focusing on now."