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Kathy Sullivan: NH energy projects should produce wins for everyone

July 07. 2014 10:48PM

NEW HAMPSHIRE is welcoming the New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers next week. The group gathers annually to discuss issues of regional import, and matters relating to energy typically are high on the list. This year’s meeting also comes against the backdrop of efforts by the New England States Committee on Electricity to develop publicly supported energy projects.

As the region’s governors meet in our beautiful mountains, hopefully they will pay attention to the host of this year’s conference, Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has been outspoken in her insistence that any regional plan reduce costs to taxpayers. In addition, Gov. Hassan has been clear that long-term energy needs do not require sacrificing New Hampshire’s high quality of life, natural resources and tourism industry.

If the governors and premiers follow Gov. Hassan’s lead, one regional project that they will reject is the current design of the Northern Pass project that Northeast Utilities, the corporate parent of Public Service Company of New Hampshire, continues to try to force on our state.

Despite a slight change in tactics, Northeast still is peddling the same basic project: a 186-mile transmission highway consisting of 85- to 135-foot high towers cutting through some of the most pristine areas in our North Country, as well as through rural and semi-rural neighborhoods in central New Hampshire, to bring electricity from Canada to states beyond New Hampshire, all for the profit of the shareholders of Northeast Utilities.Northeast has engaged in an expensive, multiple-prong public relations campaign to convince New Hampshire that this project is good for us.

On the slick Northern Pass website, a picture shows a young, physically fit smiling couple on bicycles in a country setting, apparently delighted that their venture into the north has yielded such a terrific view of transmission towers. Northeast Utilities also requested and received backing from Manchester and Nashua Chambers of Commerce, in order to tout the backing of the “local business community,” even though neither city will bear the burden of the towers.

It also has convinced organized labor to support the project in its current form through the promise of construction jobs. However, the Northern Pass website contains no guaranty of jobs, only a statement that there will be a preference for local labor. Moreover, a project that consisted of underground lines would also produce construction jobs, as evidenced by the memo of understanding entered into by the developer of the underground, underwater Champlain-Hudson project, which guaranties union labor.

Another public relations talking point used to appeal to the New Hampshire anti-tax climate is that Northern Pass, unlike some solar and wind projects, will not rely on taxpayer funded subsidies. This argument skips over the impact that a 186-mile line of transmission towers will have on businesses in our North Country that rely on travel and tourism, as well as the impact on property values in neighborhoods in central New Hampshire that also will be sliced by the power lines. These costs may not be tax credits used by Northeast Utilities, but they will be very real costs borne by New Hampshire’s people, all to benefit an out-of-state corporation.

Then there is the cost to New Hampshire’s quality of life. While most us live from Concord south to the Massachusetts border, we all benefit from the undeveloped natural beauty of our mountains and great north woods. This is the heart of New Hampshire, and scarring that heart with a towered transmission line to deliver electricity from Canada to New England is a price too high to pay. Would Massachusetts support running a line of towers over Bunker Hill? There are some places that just should not be sacrificed.

While regional energy planning makes sense, it should be done in such a way that no state is irrevocably harmed, especially when there are reasonable alternatives. Underground burial, especially along interstate highway corridors, would be a win for all concerned. Energy products that harm any state’s institutions, quality of life or economy should be avoided. We all can be part of a solution without hurting each other.

Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1999-2007.

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